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Niagara Falls
Saturday, July 13, 2024
Letter: Is NOTL reaching a tipping point on development?
A rendering of the hotel proposed for the site of the former Parliament Oak school. FILE PHOTO

Dear editor:

I was one of those who spoke at the June 11 council committee of the whole meeting when the staff recommendation to approve the rezoning of the Parliament Oak property was debated.

While hoping for a different outcome (or at least a better discussion), I wasn’t surprised by the 5-4 split in favour given the earlier decision about the Hummel property on Queen Street and what appeared to be a common insight about who would be yea and who nay.

I asked at the time, “What’s happening and really at play here? Why are we spinning our wheels debating issues that appear so obvious?”

Since then, I’ve spent some time attempting to peel back this onion, thinking, in particular, of certain statements made during the meeting that, for me at least, missed the mark.

Here are five of them, with my responses.

  1. “A housing option was tried and was rejected by the residents.”

Yes, that’s true but surely what was proposed represented overly intensive development that would have had negative neighbourhood effects. As I recall, the proposal was tweaked once but little attempt was made to negotiate a common solution. Then, of course, a willing buyer appeared, so why even bother?

  1. “A retirement housing option is unnecessary as it’s being accommodated by the 164 beds being built at Radiant Care in Virgil.”

I doubt whether that welcome development will even come close to meeting future demands for graduated housing given our large, aging demographic.

The good news is that we’ll know more soon as results become available from the well-conceived, citizen-led survey about the housing concerns and plans of those residents over 55.

3. “While some are clearly opposed and balance is important, I’ve  spoken with many of our 19,000 residents and believe we are ready to accept the project.”

Therein lies the nub of a major governance problem. Our community is complicated, basically a “community of communities” and the ways in which we differentiate issues and consult about them is insufficient.

As a resident of Old Town, I have opinions about the roundabout at St. Davids, for example, but will not be materially affected by it. My vote counts but should be outweighed by those cast by immediate residents, businesspeople and parents with school-aged children who will live with the change.

Frankly, while we are experimenting with open houses and online alternatives, we are still lousy at collecting and weighing the most relevant opinions. The ones that count most are those who will live with the outcome day-to-day.

And bets about the future for Parliament Oak, they are decidedly against the hotel. We should diligently check that out and add extra weight where it belongs.

4. “We need a five-star hotel and that’s what the developer will build.”

Says who? And what’s the likely result? Tourism consultants will argue for that as I recall the developer did years ago when he spoke favourably about high-end visitors who arrive by air or limousine, attend a wedding, maybe take in a show and a private wine tasting then exit the way they arrived.

That’s the tendency — look locally (Elora, Cambridge), elsewhere in North America and around the world.

We might understand what Shaw, as our major public draw, really needs to fill incremental seats in relatively small theatres given the number of new hotel rooms already in the works.

Or whether the wineries are suffering because of a lack of rooms? Or the Trip Advisor story last week, which noted our favourable hotel quality.

Another thought: Have we ever considered allowing smaller hotels and inns to be established at certain wineries? Agritourism is an attractive strategy in many other regions.

5. “The developer owns the property and might operate a club with a similar payoff or drag the town into another expensive legal entanglement.”

Conceivably that might happen as that’s the behaviour already experienced here and in other communities. In that event, if enough is deemed to be at stake, the cause will be well worth taking up. Odds are, assuming good preparation, the community would win.

I also suggested we may now be reaching a tipping point — where our official plan becomes just a debatable template and present-day choices will either serve to stabilize and improve our community or move it further toward decline.

Even where civil unrest could conceivably arise.

Look around. Gather the facts. Check opinions carefully. Debate the options. Be objective and then assured.

We now need to wait for June 25 to see whether the 5-4 split will change.

Mr. Terry Mactaggart
NOTL

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