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Tuesday, September 27, 2022
Arch-i-text: NOTL must take control of development

On the morning of Canada Day I visited with some folks in Old Town.

They live in what appears to be a modest 1920s bungalow, however, passing the threshold I was gobsmacked by an interior that displayed the best of New Traditional design.

Passing through the house, I stepped out onto a deck overlooking a beautifully landscaped backyard, but there was a shadow to my right that stopped my enjoyment; a shadow caused by a massive new infill build (effectively a wall replete with overlooking balcony) that altered the entire neighbourhood line-of-sight.

Nonplussed, I turned to the property owner who stated, “It conforms to the town’s building bylaws, but because you can, should you really?”

In a nutshell, that is the question facing the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. We have two major projects (Parliament Oak and the old NOTL hospital) under consideration in Old Town, residential infills are popping up like mushrooms, significant commercial properties are in the hands of developers who, no doubt, are planning future projects, and medium-high density residential developments are proliferating across the landscape.

Even on the line and concession roads in the so-called “greenbelt” homes are popping up at a nearly frenetic pace.

The face of Niagara-on-the-Lake is changing at a speed that echoes that of Mississauga in the late 20th century and continues today in Oakville, Bronte, Burlington, etc. And, just like those towns and cities, NOTL has no centralized vision or oversight governance in place to ensure our town does not become just one more causality within the Golden Horseshoe’s urbanized sea of mediocrity.

Take a drive up to Unionville or Markham to visit examples of towns in which a gracious built-heritage and gentle lifestyle have been completely bastardized by the results of unmanaged development.

There are those who believe there is nothing that can be done to manage the development juggernaut of southern Ontario, but I beg to differ.

Over several decades, the chief administrator of the Town of Mono (now retired and a valued resident of NOTL) successfully ensured that any development in his jurisdiction respected both existing cultural heritage landscapes and conformed to the residents’ commonly held vision for the town.

So, can it be done?

The answer is “Yes,” the people in towns and cities across North America have successfully assumed management oversight on development.

Should it be done?

In my opinion it’s vital, but I am only one voice and it really devolves upon the will and action of my fellow citizens in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

How can it be done?

In short: establish design review guidelines and associated administration, neither of which is terribly complicated or expensive. But, that explanation must wait until next week’s column.