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Friday, June 21, 2024
Worries of over-tourism greet plan for new hotel in Old Town
Ian and Shirley Gibson wait in the gallery for their turn to speak. EVAN LOREE
Lawyer Sara Premi watches as colleague Jennifer Vida, the planner of the proposed hotel, lays out the details for the project. EVAN LOREE
Tohne Mirth says smaller hotels can be profitable, despite the opposite being said in the project's reports. EVAN LOREE
Resident Marilyn Bartlett worries the town's tourism industry is at capacity. EVAN LOREE

Niagara-on-the-Lake residents voiced a slew of arguments against a hotel proposed in the middle of Old Town at a council meeting Tuesday night.

The proposal is by the Van Riesen Hotel Group, owned by developer Rainer Hummel, and a few residents in the crowd of 23 registered speakers shared bigger-picture concerns about the swelling of the tourism industry and its impacts on residents.

“The capacity of this town for tourists is becoming maxed out,” said resident Marilyn Bartlett.

“Queen Street is being overrun by ice cream stores, souvenir shops and other enterprises catering solely to tourists,” she added.

The proposed hotel would exacerbate the issue, she said.

The new hotel would add 81 rooms to the town’s accommodations sector but current zoning on the property only allows 24.

Tohne Wirth, who lives near the proposed hotel site, shared Bartlett’s concerns about the growing tourism industry.

“Why does this need to happen? What is the justification,” she said.

Leah Wallace, a heritage planner retained by the developer, said in a heritage impact report a “small hotel with limited guest suites is not financially viable” for the site. 

Wirth pointed to the success of existing hotels like the Riverbend and Oban Inns as examples of how smaller hotels can be successful.

She said the developer was only proposing a larger project because building costs have gone up since the town approved a smaller project on the lot and he needs “to build something bigger to make it financially viable.”

Bartlett said the proposed hotel is part of a larger trend among developers to disregard the town’s zoning bylaws in service to profitable projects.

She said developers, “motivated by profit only,” are ignoring zoning bylaws, “exploiting the town’s charm and in the process destroying it one development at a time.”

Jeanne Jennings was also concerned with the impact on the town’s character.

Until recently, she said NOTL had “an atmosphere of uncluttered serenity, space, peace and quiet.”

Jennings also said the property values of the surrounding homes would be “severely impacted by it.”

Most of the speakers took issue with the size of the building.

Wirth described it as gargantuan, while her husband Matt Hurlburt said it was “too tall.”

The proposal would introduce a 15.28-metre, four-storey tall annex building to the property, which would provide 48 of the proposed 81 rooms. 

The current zoning for the land caps building heights at 10.66 metres.

Under that zoning, structures are permitted a maximum lot coverage of 13 per cent.

The Hummel company’s proposal would cover 36 per cent. 

Pierre Hofstatter, whose home backs onto the property, said the four-storey addition would tower over his backyard.

The “mere desire” of a developer to build bigger is not a good reason to amend the official plan, he said.

“It is not the duty of the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake to ensure the property owner gets a return on his or her investment,” Hofstatter said.

Hurlburt was the first, but not the last, to take issue with the proposed glass fourth floor.

In her report, Wallace said the use of glass “lessens visual and physical impacts on the heritage house.”

Hurlburt disagreed that “glass structures blend into the surroundings” and said such designs in larger cities add a “modern look.”

The developer is also proposing three floors of underground parking with 149 spaces.

That was an issue for residents, too.

Hofstatter said the proposal did not account for staff when it allocated space for parking. 

“I don’t believe the employees would be using valet parking,” he said.

Coun. Gary Burroughs had the same concern and said the town needs to address the “potential parking issue” that could come with the new hotel.  

Jeanne Jennings said her husband Chris Jennings, an expert in underground hydrology, was especially concerned about the impact of three levels of underground parking on the town’s water table. 

Jennifer Vida, a planner working with the developer, said the hotel’s parking would not be open to the public.

Ian Gibson, who lives nearby on Simcoe Street, said the parking in his neighbourhood already makes it difficult to back out of his driveway.

Jeanne Jennings said the same about parking and congestion issues on Simcoe.

She was concerned it would only get worse if the developer proceeded with plans to provide access to the hotel’s parking garage from Simcoe Street.

Gibson and Hofstatter shared concerns that guests at the hotel would be able to look into their homes from the top of the proposed hotel. 

And Jennings said the hotel, with its restaurants and space for events, would “predictably generate huge amounts of noise.”

“Van Riesen has provided assurance that there will be no outdoor events on the fourth floor of the annex,” said Vida.

 

 

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