When I moved to Niagara-on-the-Lake 20 years ago, the thing I most admired were the efforts of certain individuals and groups to protect the historical aspects of the built environment, including gardens, parks, retail establishments, hotels etc.
Their efforts have been rewarded by a huge increase in the number of visitors as they find the town one of the most attractive places to visit in Ontario, and certainly an escape from the concrete jungle.
Their efforts have also been recognized internationally, eg. last May, the international travel magazine “Traveller” included NOTL among a list of the 50 most beautiful small towns in the world.
Unfortunately, we will tarnish and perhaps destroy this legacy if we allow future development to proceed with little regard for the past.
The development industry has realized the power of this draw and sees the town as a prime area for development.
One would have thought this industry would have seen the benefit of building upon this legacy with residences that complement the existing structures. Unfortunately, except for certain exceptions such as the Village neighbourhood, this has not been the case.
The most recent example is a proposal to construct 175 townhouses joined together in long, horizontal configurations and which demonstrate a generic architectural style of no particular period. It’s the same type of design most visitors have sought to temporarily escape.
Most alarming is that in order to do this, the developer had to clear-cut hundreds of mature trees on a large acreage known as the Rand Estate. This estate is of historical significance, represents the last great estate in the area and is surrounded by an impressive brick and dry-stone wall.
In short, it is a rare property in the Niagara region and should not be treated as just another space to develop a subdivision.
Were homes to be built on this land, at minimum you would want them to blend into the community and present a streetscape that encourages residents to walk the streets.
While most residents object to the Solmar proposal and have counted on our local council to support us, we were shocked to learn town council has removed one of the major obstacles to the development by proposing to grant a right-of-way over the Upper Canada Heritage Trail.
I was so surprised by this manoeuvre that I felt it necessary to email each of the councillors to express my outrage.
As I told the councillors, this is only the latest in a series of events that cause one to question who the members of this council are representing.
I believe that each member of council has an obligation to tell residents how they voted on this matter and explain why they made their decision. Failing this, a full public enquiry into all aspects of the relationship between developers and elected officials in the Niagara Region is warranted.
Other examples of concern include:
* The heavy-handed treatment by Deputy Lord Mayor Erwin Wiens during a public meeting last April with members of council and some 400 residents to discuss the Rand proposal felt like an attack on our democratic process. Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa declared a conflict of interest and left the meeting.
* In the parking lot afterward, a councillor told me that Mr. Marotta may be “changing his ways,” since he was building an attractive restaurant on Queen Street. It seems some members of council equate the construction of a restaurant with the destruction of a unique estate property unlike any other in Ontario, and perhaps Canada. But where is the vision when it comes to protecting the vital historical character of the town?
* While the integrity commissioner cleared Coun. Gary Burroughs of any wrongdoing after he was given an envelope containing $10,000 in cash by Mr. Marotta, we must ask if it is prudent to attend a lunch at Mr. Marotta’s winery when the owner is party to one of the most contentious issues before council.
* The failure of the Niagara Regional Police to see any issue with this payment and to provide any explanation as to how they arrived at that conclusion raises concern. Why should we be left in the dark?
* The increasing use of in-camera meetings, which exclude the public and are held in daytime hours, may be seen by some as an attempt to discourage the public from attending council.
* The recent departure of chief administrator Marnie Cluckie and director of operations Rome D’Angelo raises questions.
In short, I believe the average resident is becoming unnerved by the actions of this council and nothing short of a full inquiry or a new election is required to restore a feeling that council is acting in the best interests of the citizens rather than the development industry.
NOTL’s legacy as one of the 50 most beautiful towns in the world cannot be maintained if we allow one mundane and unaffordable row of townhouses after another to be built by a development industry that simply looks upon this area as a cash cow.