As a controversial Niagara-on-the-Lake residential development winds its way through the approval process, some residents of St. Davids are feeling left in the dark.
Heading into a council meeting on Jan. 16, residents were frustrated to have only been given four days to prepare responses to a staff report that was months in the making.
That report recommends approving the Tawny Ridge Estates project, a major new development that neighbours have been raising concerns about for months.
The subdivision, proposed for the corner of Warner and Tanbark roads in St. Davids, consists of 24 townhouses, 30 stacked townhouses and 32 single-family units.
“I got, basically, one-and-a-half business days to read everything, make a presentation and have it uploaded on the town’s website by noon Monday,” resident Gienek Ksiazkiewicz said in an interview.
In an email responding to his complaints, Coun. Maria Mavridis said council works under the same time constraints as residents, “sometimes reading through hundreds of pages in a few days.”
“I’m kind of skeptical that town staff would give councillors that short amount of time to read all that information,” said Ksiazkiewicz.
If there was too much information to process, even for council, the St. Davids resident suggested the meeting should have been delayed.
Town spokesperson Marah Minor said there is no requirement for the town to inform residents about the release of a recommendation report like the one council discussed on Jan. 16.
“When a recommendation report is released, staff provide a courtesy email to anyone who has participated in the public meeting or submitted comments on the application,” Minor said in an email.
Resident Mike Pearsall thinks that is “not practical at all,”
All changes in the project up to this point are, in his words, “lip service.”
“They took a lot of input and they didn’t react to it at all,” he said.
Initially, the developer had a four-storey apartment included in the proposal, but this has been axed in favour of stacked townhouse units.
“The changes they’ve made are very, very minimal,” Pearsall said, adding it would be easy to get the four-storey apartment back on the table if the property were to change hands.
“They put it on the back burner for now,” said another resident, Bill Krahan. “How do we know we’re not going back to that original design?”
He and neighbour Tony Taylor, who both live near the intersection of Tanbark and Hickory Avenue, say they’re fine with more homes going up so long as the infrastructure of the community can support them.
But as it stands, the neighbours are concerned the intersection they live at is unsafe and the storm sewers are insufficient.
Taylor, who lives at 144 Tanbark Rd., said his driveway is dangerously close to the adjacent intersection and does not meet provincial safety standards.
Krahn wants to know if the town could be liable if someone gets injured at the intersection of Hickory and Tanbark.
Both men said the storm lines can’t handle the runoff coming down the nearby Niagara Escarpment.
Taylor said he has seen manholes blown open by intense water pressure.
After heavy rainfall and snow melt Friday, Ksiazkiewicz shared photos of an overfilled stormwater pond on Sandlewood Crescent.
“We have had rain recently and contrary to what (Upper Canada Consultants) and (town planner) Rick Wilson had indicated, existing water runoff is a problem,” he said in an email.
“The proposed densification of the Tawny Ridge will undoubtedly overload the hydrological capabilities of what exists now,” he added.
Krahn shared video footage of flooding problems along Tanbark at a previous public meeting on the project, however, Craig Rohe, a planner representing the developer, has said the footage is misleading because it was taken before storm sewers had been installed.
Pearsall said he and his neighbours have similar footage which is much more recent.
Ksiazkiewicz also told The Lake Report he reached out to the town on Oct. 20 with a series of questions on the proposed development.
While staff responded, he said they didn’t answer specifics about property ownership and application status. The project is being proposed by St. Davids’ Riverview Estates Inc.
Wilson responded to Ksiazkiewicz saying the town had received a resubmitted application and staff were “continuing the review of the applications.”
He did not answer the resident’s questions about the property owner.
Pearsall thinks residents are not “getting value for money” and questioned why elected leaders don’t seem to be listening to residents’ concerns.
“I really don’t think that the lord mayor is looking after the public. He’s looking more after developer’s interests,” he said.
Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa told The Lake Report he is always open to help people “who are willing to work inside the confines of the planning regulations that the municipality has set forward.”
“If that’s the definition of pro-development, then I would say that … that might be a way to characterize it,” Zalepa said.
As is the case with many projects, residents opposing the development in St. Davids have opinions that differ from those of town staff.
“I’m going to lean towards the professional planning advice,” Zalepa said.
The lord mayor said he’s open to hearing out a resident’s concerns but the “major components” of development should be steered by planning experts and legislation.
Despite residents saying they feel ignored, Zalepa said there has been “significant opportunity for public engagement” for the Tawny Ridge project.
Ksiazkiewicz said Coun. Adriana Vizzari, a St. Davids resident, has dropped the ball representing her constituents.
In an email exchange obtained by The Lake Report, he accused the councillor of being unresponsive to the residents of St. Davids.
“You have not been an advocate for St. Davids residents,” he said.
In an email dated Jan. 13, she invited the resident to call her and voice his concerns. But Ksiazkiewicz declined.
“The time to discuss with residents, when they were looking for your support, would have been months ago,” he said.
In an interview, Vizzari said she always takes constituents’ concerns seriously, but said she didn’t want to get into a public dispute with Ksiazkiewicz.