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Niagara Falls
Thursday, March 30, 2023
Editorial: Development, NOTL and Bill 23
The Lake Report's weekly editorial. File

A large condo complex that dwarfs its neighbours on Mary Street.

A high-end boutique hotel on the old Parliament Oak school property, amid a quiet residential area.

A major housing and hotel project on the historic Rand Estate.

A two-storey house, covering more than 40 per cent of a tiny lot, replacing a small single-storey cottage in the Chautauqua neighbourhood.

What do all of these development projects have in common?

Many things, but a strong common denominator is that residents, advocates and some elected officials object to them on principle and don’t feel they are properly suited to their locations. Too big, too dominant, too much.

And in all cases, the opponents are correct – not that such developments can’t ever happen in Niagara-on-the-Lake, but that the scale or type of proposal needs to be reconsidered.

The question now: In Ontario, in 2023, does it matter what neighbours, residents, town officials – the greater community – thinks?

As our Page 1 story this week outlines, maybe not.

Doug Ford’s omnibus Bill 23 became law in November and it stripped municipalities and communities of many of their powers over development.

It’s all in service to the “More Homes Built Faster” philosophy and it could mean substantial changes to how small towns like NOTL will look in a few years.

We won’t regurgitate here a lot of the ground covered in our expansive look at Bill 23, but it would seem that the ground has literally shifted and the position of people like Deputy Lord Mayor Erwin Wiens – “Communicate, don’t litigate” – might be the only future for towns like ours.

However, it also appears that in whatever negotiating goes on with large or small developers, municipalities will have little wriggle room. One hand (at least) is tied behind the back, thanks to Bill 23.

None of this is to say the community should throw in the towel and give up. Far from it.

Speak up. Push back. Let your concerns be known.

Until the newest incarnation of the provincial authority on planning decisions – now called the Ontario Land Tribunal – starts to weigh in on appeals, there’s some slim hope that community concerns might have some influence on the outcome. But no guarantees.

Unfortunately, it appears, in many cases, especially those involving residential developments, “as of right” is the new buzz phrase, meaning property owners will have a lot more influence than they did previously. And municipalities like the Town of NOTL will have a lot less.

We hope we are wrong in this assessment and that special communities – like Old Town in NOTL – will be viewed through a lens that balances an established area’s concerns with a developer’s desires and with the province’s goal to build more homes.

Premier Doug Ford, embroiled in controversy over his personal relationship with developers, has changed the rules in the name of building more homes. The jury is still out on how those changes will alter life in towns like NOTL.

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