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Niagara Falls
Friday, April 19, 2024
NOTL pushes priority problems at municipal conference
Town chief administrator Bruce Zvaniga, left, with Coun. Wendy Cheropita, finance minister Peter Bethlenfalvy and Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa at the Rural Ontario Municipal Conference. EVAN LOREE

Town leaders had an audience with the Ministry of Housing in late January and used the opportunity to ask the government to change a rule concerning municipal development applications — one connected to an upcoming, contentious project in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Senior town staff and councillors returned from a conference held by the Rural Ontario Municipal Association on Jan. 23 where they lobbied provincial ministries for support on this and other issues. 

“Niagara-on-the-Lake was well represented, attending seven delegations and meeting with six provincial ministries to advocate for local priorities,” spokesperson Marah Minor said in a press release.

Zalepa and other town leaders spoke to representatives from the housing ministry about amending the Planning Act so towns can “stop the clock” on project applications.

“We’re asking the government to consider putting a stop time in when there’s feedback given to the developer from the staff or the public from a public meeting,” Zalepa explained in an interview.

Bice Builders, owned by Josh Bice, appealed a project application to the Ontario Land Tribunal for a non-decision while the town was waiting for his team to respond to public feedback.

This, Zalepa said, was not the reason for the town’s pitched policy changes. The issue was bigger than just one project proposal.

“We’re seeing it all across the planning files because of the short, new timeframes that the government has put in,” he said.

Zalepa was referring to legislative changes passed by the province in July 2023. 

The changes force towns to refund application fees to developers when they can’t process the applications according to prescribed deadlines.

“Discussions also took place about prioritizing funding for infrastructure and transit to support higher-density housing,” said Minor’s news release.

Minor said the town also pushed for more time to get heritage status for all the properties on its registrar, under the Ontario Heritage Act.

The province passed legislative changes in November 2022 that force the town to designate properties on its registrar in two years or be forced to remove them for five years.

“The bill says we have to have all our properties reviewed by the end of the year,” Zalepa said.

“We probably have the most in any municipality in Ontario, and it’s not going to be physically possible to renew all of them before Dec. 31,” he added.

The town has about 200 properties on its heritage register.

This is the second year in a row the town has advocated this issue to Michael Ford, the minister of citizenship and multiculturalism.

“Discussing challenges can be difficult, but it is crucial for progress and growth,” Zalepa said in the press release.

The town also advocated for support of irrigation infrastructure, changes to alcohol legislation, the need for medical professionals and the threat of oak wilt, a fungal disease, to town trees, Minor said in the press release.

The town asked Sylvia Jones, the minister of health, to finalize the placement of a nurse practitioner in NOTL “immediately,” the release said.

The town is also looking for additional grants to help towns “increase recruitment efforts​” for physicians.

The town also asked Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma to make sure irrigation infrastructure continues to be eligible for funding through the Canada Infrastructure Bank.

Town officials also expressed thanks to the ministers of finance and agriculture for their support in eliminating a 6.1 per cent tax on VQA wines, of which NOTL is Ontario’s leading producer.

evanloree@niagaranow.com

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