27 C
Niagara Falls
Friday, July 12, 2024
Arch-i-text: The road forward on development
Brian Marshall (Supplied)

Over the last two weeks, this column has raised the issue of managing Niagara-on-the-Lake’s development and the role of design review guidelines.

For those who suggest that guidelines might not be acceptable under the provincial legislation, I beg to differ. Design review guidelines speak only and specifically to maintaining/enhancing the community consensus about neighbourhood design.

In other words, these guidelines act to ensure the neighbourhood character and abutting properties are respected during the design process while giving some much-needed reference criteria to our urban design committee.

Further, granting a building permit is solely under the authority of the town and, provided compliant bylaws are in place, there is no real legislative barrier to requiring architects and builders conform to a town’s design review guidelines. In fact, to build anything in The Village in NOTL requires approval by the “Village architect.”

Obviously, town council will be required to adopt bylaws to support the guidelines. Items like contextual zoning (maximum building height limitations based on the average height of shouldering properties) as opposed to the current townwide 10-metre high restriction that pays no attention to existing streetscape. However, this is a pretty straightforward process of identifying the bylaws required by the guidelines and subsequently ratifying them.

This brings us to the question of cost for developing design review guidelines, which could very easily be astronomical if handled in a normal government fashion.

Here again, with the resident expertise of the town citizens, including nationally recognized landscape architects, design architects, urban designers, lawyers, both public and private management professionals, and builders (among other fields), I suspect the majority of the costs for creating these guidelines could easily be defrayed by volunteers. In fact, I am aware of a rapidly coalescing group of citizens who propose to do just that.        

While design review guidelines are a powerful tool in a community management kit-bag, these should not be considered a panacea. There are other options that might and should, where feasible, be exercised as well.

In the July 15 edition of this paper, Coun. Norm Arsenault is quoted as suggesting Ontario’s community planning permit system is something “we should have done two and a half years ago.” This may be a potentially worthy undertaking, but as he stated, “it’s a long-term process.”

Thinking outside the box for a few moments, there may be options with shorter time horizons.

One option among several may be associated with the provincial provision for “special policy areas” (SPA). These areas are effectively exempt from the Planning Act. While SPAs are principally associated with floodplains, has anyone ever seen a flood plain map of NOTL overlaid by a 100-year flood event (a fundamental criteria defined by the legislation)?

Not surprisingly, given our topography and proximity to major bodies of water, an uneducated eyeball estimate suggests a significant portion of the town might qualify.

And that’s only one of several creative options that might be initiated.

Subscribe to our mailing list