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Jan. 29, 2022 | Saturday
Editorials and Opinions
Ross's Ramblings: Is NOTL in danger of becoming a BANANA republic?
Parliament Oak. (File)

BANANA: Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.

It seems that almost every week a new and clever acronym enters our local lexicon. 

Several decades ago, CAVE was first uttered locally by the late entrepreneur Kevan O’Connor, a great pal to so many. He was also a key supporter of Red Roof Retreat. 

As a real estate developer, he was consistently held to account by a group of determined and well-intentioned citizens who fought every one of his projects. He said they were “Citizens Against Virtually Everything.”

The acronym NIMBY is well-known, often applied to those who say a project might be good, but Not In My Backyard. SNAFU is universal, from the military expression, Situation Normal All Fouled Up, approximately.

But back to Niagara-on-the-Lake, where we have SORE to describe the good folk working to ensure that the Rand Estate will be a good example of “the highest and best use of land.”  A neat acronym, although SORE makes me think of a sore throat or a sore back. Discomfort, a Band-aid, a scab.

Somehow, the planning and development process usually works, and the Prince of Wales Hotel anchors our downtown’s historic main corner.  Who would have thought an old brick cannery could become the classy and unique Pillar and Post?

Remember how long the ugly C&C Yachts factory dominated one part of town? Our wonderful public library, the community centre, the Robert Howse path from Old Town to Virgil have all been changes for the betterment of our lives. How did a cenotaph get located in the middle of our main street?

At our incredibly active NOTL Tennis Club in Memorial Park, we have what I call the BMUG (Ball Machine Users Group). Hard-working directors and volunteers organize our leagues and lessons, and I defy anyone to find a better value for dollar sporting club in Canada.

And now we are in the midst of the process regarding the future use of the old Parliament Oak Public School property (with another virtual public meeting set for Jan. 10). Tempers are short and dramatic words such as audacious and explosive are now in our local version of Hansard. 

Frankly, I admit to having no real understanding of zoning bylaws or official plans or secondary plans or heritage preservation areas. I leave that stuff to the professionals and developers. But, I watch and I read the local papers. And I wonder.

How did so much get done over the years? The large hotels, the King’s Point condominiums (which king? where is the point?), the absolute gem set back from Paffard Street, that includes 16 condominiums, a four-storey building buffered by tasteful landscaping. Different NOTL residents have different housing wants and needs. Let’s be more kind and respectful. 

And now let's ramble back to the Parliament Oak project. It is interesting that some young local people in town, who have a past connection to the site, agree that something must be done. 

Many of them hope to live here someday and seem to love the proposal by Liberty Sites (3) Ltd. Granted, it won’t provide affordable housing, but it will expand the diversity of accommodation inventory.

It is my understanding that until this year, there has been no purpose-built rental accommodation constructed in NOTL for over 35 years. That’s such a long time, eh? 

The current proposal includes underground parking and preserves the historic facades on the King Street side of the building. Tasteful landscaping will soften the structures, and in a few years, people will do well to remember there was once a thriving elementary school and playground on the site.

My late sister was president of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario for eight years and enjoyed several great triumphs as they protected heritage structures across the province. They suffered some heartbreaking losses, too, as wrecking balls destroyed built heritage.

As the 20th century drew to a close, she was asked to comment on the desire by some folk to have the Peace Bridge between Fort Erie and Buffalo designated as a heritage structure. “To receive heritage status, a building must be more than just old. It must be significant. And by the way, the Peace Bridge is ugly.”

In no way am I saying the former Parliament Oak Public School building is ugly. But let’s be objective and admit it is a mundane, tired, yellow brick building that has served its purpose. Thousands of students learned, played and grew up at Parliament Oak, and the Christmas plays in the gymnasium were so special each December.

It’s time to be visionary and fair-minded. Propose, discuss, modify, propose, discuss,  modify, agree, then go for it and build. “Commit. Then, figger it out.”

Why did Parliament Oak close? That darned David Foot and his book "Boom, Bust & Echo" explained it. Demographics. Smaller families – and most young families couldn’t afford to live in Old Town.  

The long game here is to somehow create a path toward much more diverse housing in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Some people want single-family detached homes on a large or small lot. Others want semi-detached or townhomes. The three townhomes at the corner of Gate and Mississagua are so tasteful.

How unfortunate that dozens, no hundreds, of hard-working people must commute 20 or 30 minutes, or more, to their jobs in Old Town.

So, let’s support the good people of POST. They want to Preserve Our Special Town. Let’s preserve what is good and change what needs changing.

Be respectful and kind, and work together with positive attitudes. Things aren’t going to stay the same on that property. Don’t get GOUT. Guide Our Unique Town.