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Monday, May 20, 2024
Angry residents storm out of town planning meeting
Harald Wattrus said from his perspective, it seemed NOTL councillors were making it hard on residents to speak out against developments. JULIA SACCO

The town needs to give people more time to prepare to speak during a council meeting, some residents say — but councillors and the lord mayor say they’re simply following standard procedures.

Angry residents stormed out of a planning meeting Tuesday night after being told they could not speak during the public delegations portion. 

Following three public presentations on Tuesday evening, residents chimed in from the back of the room asking when they would have the chance to speak on another planning project, which wasn’t on the agenda.

The proposal for a hotel and condominium in Glendale sparked passionate responses last fall from Niagara-on-the-Lake residents who live near the site on York Road and they were on hand hoping to speak up again.

“Apparently — and I know you’re here to deal with that issue — this is not the opportunity. That was at the public meeting and I believe you were at the public meeting,” Coun. Gary Burroughs told the residents, referring to a formal meeting held on the hotel project. 

An open house on the proposal, slated for the north side of York Road east of Airport Road, was held last Oct. 17, while a public meeting was held Nov. 7.

Alexandria Attree, the town’s administrative assistant, said a courtesy email was sent out on Thursday to alert residents of Tuesday’s meeting and that if they wished to register to speak as a delegate, it had to be done no later than noon Monday.

“We were sent an email to come tonight and speak,” said resident Lynn McDonough.

She was at the Nov. 7 planning meeting and shared her fury regarding the Glendale hotel plans. 

McDonough said the development does not take the nearby residents into consideration and felt it would invade her privacy.

Another resident, who left the room before a reporter could get her name, explained that life got in the way of being able to reach the Monday noon deadline, but she was under the impression that people would still be able to speak even if they hadn’t registered as a delegation.

Burroughs, who chaired the meeting, said the email notice was clearly misinterpreted. 

“This is a process problem: what can we do about it but listen to our residents?”

“We need to bring order back to the room,” Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa said.

Burroughs, however, made it clear that he wanted to hear from the residents. 

“Thank you, lord mayor, for the direction. I’m trying to deal with our residents,” Burroughs said.

At one point during the discussion, Zalepa got up from his seat and left the room, returning moments later.

“We’re listening to these people because they’re getting mislead,” Burroughs said, defending his actions to engage with the residents.

After being told there was no time for them to speak, McDonough made her feelings clear.

“This is our lives, OK? Our lives,” she said. “We have a 10-storey building going in our backyard and you guys don’t seem to care.”

“You want us to vote for you. You don’t want to listen to us.”

The discussion was followed by a delegation from Harald Wattrus, son-in-law of the owners of 184 Queen St., regarding another hotel — this one, an 81-room project proposed by developer Rainer Hummel for 228 Queen St. 

Wattrus began by asking for the clock to be stopped on his delegation so that he could ask the council a question. 

He wanted to know how much notice was required to be given to residents before a meeting, saying, “We just had the previous issue, which is my exact situation.”

Wattrus accused the town of deliberately giving residents too little time to put together a presentation. He received the meeting documents last Thursday and had only five days to read the staff reports and prepare for the planning session.

And at the public meeting for the Queen Street project on Oct. 3, the high-interest development was the last item on the agenda, leaving his 89-year-old mother-in-law to speak at 9:30 p.m., he said.

“This appears to me, as an outsider, as a deliberate strategy to make it as difficult and inconvenient as possible for the general public to object to reserving applications,” Wattrus said. 

Hummel’s 81-room hotel proposal was met with anger from some residents at the October meeting.

Marilyn Bartlett, a resident who watched Tuesday’s meeting online, was also unable to meet the Monday noon deadline.

In an email to the town, Bartlett said the hotel plan “has significant adverse consequences for local residents, who surround it on three sides.”

She and other citizens felt it was wrong that they had only five days to read and respond to the staff recommendation report for Tuesday’s meeting.

Following Wattrus’ statement, Zalepa reiterated that council was simply following its normal procedure.

“Every process that’s followed for these meetings is a policy of council and a process that’s followed every time,” he said.

“To make a comment disparaging to council about council’s intentions is completely out of order and will be taken with objection,” Zalepa added.

Coun. Sandra O’Connor said she agreed with Zalepa, but could empathize with residents at the same time.

“I do want to add that I know our procedures can be confusing to people who don’t always have to deal with these kinds of things,” she said.

She encouraged people to call the town, saying that staff are always happy to guide them through the process.

Coun. Erwin Wiens, who also found the remarks unacceptable, told The Lake Report that he feels three days is adequate time to prepare — especially considering some residents were present at the first meeting in late 2023.

“I received the report the same day that they received the report and I was prepared,” he said.

He added that the “tantrum” thrown by residents was unacceptable. “These people had the same tantrum in October.” 

Wiens added that he was unhappy with how Burroughs treated the situation as chair.

“When they started screaming, the chair said, ‘Yes, our staff is to blame’ — twice,” he said.

“That’s what encourages people.” 

Burroughs told The Lake Report that he is “not proud” of what happened during the meeting, but has explained how he thinks it can be made better.

“I’m concerned when residents are upset as they are and we should do something to try and make it better,” he said.

Town staff followed the rules and did what they had to do, but perhaps the Monday-by-noon deadline could have been made more clear, he said.

juliasacco@niagaranow.com

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