On a cold Tuesday night, the first gathering of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s new council got a little hot Dec. 13 when the head of the Niagara Home Builders Association complained about hikes in development-related fees.
Chuck McShane was visibly frustrated over a 15.6 per cent increase in town fees used to offset the cost of providing parking and other infrastructure needs.
One of the fees is called cash in lieu of parking and town treasurer Kyle Freeborn told The Lake Report after the meeting the issue doesn’t come up very often.
The town charges the fee to developers who are unable to provide parking for their projects.
According to a staff report, the fee is used to offset the cost to the town of providing the space itself.
The town is increasing the charge to $65,988 per parking space for 2023.
Freeborn said the bulk of the cost comes from the land itself, which is exceptionally expensive in Old Town.
The other fee increase McShane spoke about was development charges.
Similar to the parking fee, development charges are used by the town to offset infrastructure costs like parks, sewers and sidewalks.
The town has decided to increase development charges for single-family homes. This hike will also be 15.6 per cent.
“Government-imposed fees and charges are passed on to the end consumer and new home purchaser, and as such, the (Niagara Home Builders Association) has an obligation to ensure fairness and accountability on their behalf,” said McShane.
He urged council to produce a report justifying the 15.6 per cent increase in the two fees.
“These fees do not just affect the developer,” said McShane.
“It also affects every homeowner in Niagara-on-the-Lake,” he added.
McShane’s presentation was interrupted by the meeting’s acting chair, Coun. Tim Balasiuk, who was trying to keep delegations to 10 minutes, in accordance with the town’s procedural bylaw.
McShane did not think that was fair as he was presenting on three separate items on the meeting’s agenda.
After McShane’s presentation, councillors agreed they would make an effort to communicate the fee increases more effectively in the future.
For Tuesday’s meeting, seven council members attended in-person while Couns. Erwin Wiens and Maria Mavridis joining virtually.
Response to Bill 23 deferred
The mood of the room cooled after council heard Coun. Sandra O’Connor’s motion asking Premier Doug Ford to “pause” enacting his controversial Bill 23 legislation until there is “meaningful consultation” with municipalities.
“I’m wondering if we’re going to give a response if we should be a little more specific to just Niagara-on-the-Lake,” said Coun. Wendy Cheropita.
Bill 23, also known as the More Homes Built Faster Act, will have widespread effects on development controls across the province.
Cheropita pointed out the province was not removing any agricultural land from NOTL and that the greater concern for the town was the effect of the bill on heritage preservation.
“I was hoping that this new council would not be as full of criticism about our province where we get a lot of funding and wording it a little more delicately,” said Coun. Gary Burroughs.
He added that the motion was “a bit aggressive” and he did not think it would change the premier’s mind.
Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa suggested the town should be careful and noted there are some aspects of the bill that have yet to be moved on.
He was worried the town might receive a cold shoulder if it was too aggressive with its concerns.
“I think that’s strategically a blunder,” he said, encouraging O’Connor to look closely at the items in the bill that are yet to be determined and tailor the motion to the needs of the town.
Zalepa said Bill 23 does not amend the Greenbelt, that the amendments are part of a separate legislation released the same day.
O’Connor insisted they vote on the motion and Burroughs responded with a motion to defer it to council’s meeting on Dec. 20.
People looking to offer a special set of skills to the town will soon get the chance to apply for seats on the town’s many committees and boards now that the council has begun to assign councillors to committees.
Coun. Tim Balasiuk will be sitting on the Christmas Parade and municipal heritage committees.
Coun. Gary Burroughs will also be on the heritage committee, the transportation advisory committee and the RiverBrink Museum’s board of directors.
Coun. Wendy Cheropita will sit on the urban design committee and the Chamber of Commerce.
Coun. Maria Mavridis will be on the short-term rental committee, the transportation advisory committee and the Niagara Region transportation committee.
Coun. Sandra O’Connor will join the board of Music Niagara and the Pumphouse Arts Centre. She will also be appointed to the Court of Revision.
Coun. Nick Ruller will be on the Niagara Historical Society and the Court of Revision.
Coun. Adriana Vizzari will be on the NOTL Public Library Board and the NOTL Energy Board.
Coun. Erwin Wiens will sit on the Niagara Parks Commission, Niagara District Airport Commission and the Court of Revision.
And Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa will sit on the board for the Shaw Festival and the NOTL Energy Board.
Decisions on appointment to the municipal accommodation tax committee were deferred until Dec. 20.
The town’s new selection committee, used to screen applicants to its boards and committees, will be made up of Cheropita, O’Connor, Vizzari and Zalepa.
The selection committee will oversee appointments of citizens to a long list of town committees.