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Niagara Falls
Thursday, April 18, 2024
Editorial: They paved paradise, put up a parking lot
A roadway and hotel parking lot were illegally constructed on conservation land five years ago. Now the developer has to plant some new trees and shrubs, the town says. FILE FILE

We laud and respect the hard work and countless hours for too-little pay that our elected municipal leaders put in to try to serve the best interests of our community.

It’s a tough job, thankless in many ways, and decisions are second-guessed regularly by everyone from the electorate to other wannabe politicians to know-it-all newspaper editors.

More than five years ago, Vrancor, the company building the Holiday Inn Express and Staybridge Suites hotels near Glendale and the QEW, did something it shouldn’t have.

It paved over protected conservation authority land to make room for an access road and an expanded parking lot. They literally paved paradise and put up a parking lot, to quote Joni Mitchell.

That was in 2018.

The council led by then-Lord Mayor Betty Disero was involved in trying to get to the bottom of the situation — and failed.

To be honest, we’re not sure what happened both politically and on the ground. The Lake Report contacted both the Town of NOTL and the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority at regular intervals over the past four years, published some stories about the problem early on but basically got stonewalled and told that negotiations were “ongoing.”

Unfortunately, as investigative journalists, we failed to vigorously pursue answers, as other news usurped priorities.

Time marched on and nothing was resolved.

In defence of the new council led by Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa, it got stuck having to deal with something the Disero council and conservation authority should have quickly resolved years ago. But they didn’t.

There’s an unfortunate tradition in NOTL of kicking the can down the proverbial road and that’s apparently what happened here.

With so much time having passed, holding Vrancor to account for its illegal action is nearly impossible, according to the town’s chief planner. It’s now been deemed a simple mistake: “They thought the town had approved its paving plans.”

That might be true, but we have a hard time with such an explanation.

Because, really, if that was the case, why wasn’t this issue resolved years ago?

More than five years since the infraction and finally there’s a negotiated settlement. Five years: world wars have lasted less.

Now, the hotel developer will have to plant a slew of new shrubs and trees — twice as many as it destroyed — as compensation for its transgression.

It amounts to a stern finger wag and “don’t do it again” admonition.

The company will spend several thousand dollars, perhaps, but the principle of protecting conservation land will be a casualty.

Perhaps we’re dead wrong and this really is the best outcome given so much time has passed.

However, it feels like the ball was dropped by our municipality and the conservation authority — and instead a convenient “swap” known in planning jargon as “offsetting” has been agreed to.

So, we are forced to accept that there’s nothing more that could have been done in the case of this illegal paving debacle.

But what of the next one? Or the one after that?

Will Niagara-on-the-Lake be able to hold future developers to account if they cross the line and do something untoward that violates planning rules or statutes?

Has the town now set a precedent for how other developers can proceed? Will “offsetting” become more of the norm when dealing with conservation land or other vulnerable properties?

We hope that is not the case and we hope that the town and other public agencies allot higher priority to policing transgressions and resolving them. But hope is a fool’s errand.

“Negotiate, don’t litigate” is one of the buzz terms we’ve heard from the current council.

We can abide by that idea in many instances. But let’s not take years to do so and let’s not allow developers to run roughshod over NOTL.

Let’s not allow the tail to wag the dog.

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