With it looking like construction on a new health centre in Niagara-on-the-Lake could be delayed by about six months, property owner and developer Lloyd Redekopp holds little hope the building will be completed to meet local doctors' timeline.
He remains optimistic, though, that the required rezoning and Official Plan amendments will pass, with site plan approval to follow, to eventually allow him to move ahead with his proposal.
After a lengthy discussion about how to best deal with traffic and safety concerns of neighbours to the site at Monday's council meeting, the rezoning decision he hoped to hear was deferred until September.
Last fall, 10 Niagara-on-the-Lake family doctors from the Niagara North Family Health Team announced they had chosen Redekopp's property beside Crossroads Public School for their two-storey medical centre. The site backs on to Niagara Stone Road, with an entrance from Line 2.
In addition to the medical clinic, which would bring all the NOTL doctors under the same roof, the proposal includes plans for a pharmacy, laboratory, optometrist, physiotherapist, imaging and professional offices. The doctors, now split between the NOTL hospital buildng and the Niagara Medical Clinic down the road from the chosen location, will require new offices by the end of 2019.
But before the project can move ahead, the property must be rezoned for commercial use, instead of residential, as it currently stands.
Although councillors were reminded more than once Monday the issue before them was one of land use only, those who voted to defer their decision were struggling with the need for safety measures at the busy intersection at Line 2 and Niagara Stone Road, and how to solve the problems of residents living on Henry and Andres Streets, who are already dealing with increased traffic and cars parked on side streets in the area.
A traffic impact study initiated by Redekopp to ease residents' concerns, confirmed by a Town-initiated peer review and mirroring Regional comments, found traffic counts do not warrant a traffic light at the intersection. At last week's planning committee meeting, although those concerns were discussed, the rezoning was approved by a majority of councillors.
This week, three short videos were played for councillors, showing a long line of traffic on Henry Street following an accident on Niagara Stone Road Saturday, as well as traffic backed up on Line 2 and cars parked on both sides of the residential roads, making it awkward for through traffic.
Coun. Martin Mazza made it clear his lack of support for the proposal at this point is not a lack of support for the doctors or the family health team, and “contrary to the fear-mongering comments from some of the doctors,” who have told their patients they may have to look outside of town if this project doesn't move ahead, “there will continue to be doctors in NOTL,” he said.
In the meantime, he won't approve the new building as long as safety issues continue. “I for one will not put one person at risk.”
Coun. Paolo Miele said neighbours of the proposed development “want their doctors, but not in that location.”
If the property remains residential, he said, there might be 20 to 30 new homes built, “but that would be a little more acceptable” than the increased traffic flow from 60 to 70 staff members at a medical centre, and those who use it.
“Traffic will be a nightmare. It already is.”
“Obviously the issue is close to all of us,” said Coun. Terry Flynn. “They are our family doctors. My concern is for the residents in the neighbourhood.”
He spent some time at Line 2 watching the traffic, he said, and understands the concerns of the residents in the vicinity.
Approving the rezoning, he said, could mean the Town would lose control over any improvements to traffic safety.
“We can't throw it on the back of the developer or the Region. All three of us have to come to the table,” Flynn said, adding, “we really need something between now and September.”
Coun. Jim Collard blamed the current situation on the Region, suggesting there should be a plan for dealing with traffic along Niagara Stone Road from Homer Bridge to the Old Town. The Town has been asking the Region for that for the last 15 years, he said, “and they've done nothing for the last 15 years.”
Coun. Betty Disero pointed out whether the development goes ahead or not, the problems on Henry and Andres Streets will remain. “We need to resolve this and we will,” she said, but holding up the rezoning and Official Plan amendments and site plan approval doesn't have to be part of the solution.
The doctors went looking for a location when council wouldn't agree to allowing a building beside the community centre, she said.
The doctors chose the current site, and if the medical building doesn't go ahead, “I do have a fear that the doctors will scatter. The family health team will stay, but the doctors will not.”
Coun. John Wiens, who also spent some time watching traffic in the area, says he worries that as more new homes are built in the area, the streets will become even more congested.
“Common sense tells me that intersection is not going to work for us, with this added traffic that's going to be created by the new facility.”
Redekopp is hoping he can sit down with Town and Regional representatives to come up with some “viable options” to alleviate traffic problems, which he has seen first hand, having owned a business nearby. But he says he believes it's a pre-existing condition that will only be “minimally affected” by a new medical centre, and one that won't necessarily be solved by a traffic signal. He said he agrees traffic congestion is a separate issue that needs to be solved, whether or not the medical centre goes ahead.
He was also hoping site plan approval authority could be delegated by council to town staff to save some time and allow construction to begin this fall, since council will meet only once before being desolved for the October election. Instead, it's looking like it will be January before a new council can deal with it, delaying the start of construction five to six months, he said.
Couns. Mazza, Miele and Wiens voted for the deferral motion, which was made by Flynn. Collard, Desiro and Lord Mayor Pat Darte, who agreed with Disero that postponing the rezoning issue wouldn't solve the traffic problems, were opposed.
Flynn's motion also directed staff to organize a discussion about a traffic signal with the developer, and have a report for councillors in September, the last opportunity for the current council to deal with the rezoning.
Redekopp says although options have been discussed to provide interim office space for doctors until the Line 2 building is completed, there is no plan B at this point. The former Virgil public school, which he also owns, has been mentioned, but it too would require rezoning, he said.
“It would be the doctors themselves that would have a plan B.”
He didn't expect when he began this process that it would be stalled where it is today, he added.
As to ownership of the building, which some believe will include a group of doctors, it's a question that remains unanwered, at least for now.
Redekopp says at this point the property is family-owned. He considers the doctors partners, in that he is working with them – but not necessarily as part owners, he said.
“And I'm still hopeful for positive results.”