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Niagara Falls
Friday, July 12, 2024
Letter: Town must pick and choose its legal battles
Letter to the editor. File

Dear editor:

How often have you heard or read that the role of town councillors and staff is to defend the town’s official plan against those seeking to deviate from it?

The underlying sentiment is the erroneous belief that the plan is the end point rather than the starting point in dealing with those requests.

There are numerous other factors and actors that can also come into play.

First, there is the regional plan, which trumps the town plan.

Second, the local committee of adjustment can support minor deviations from the town plan, although some might quibble over whether the deviation in a particular case is indeed minor or major.

Third, town council can amend the plan (for example to rezone a brownfield industrial site to allow for the building of housing).

Fourth, there is the Ontario Land Tribunal (and its predecessor the Ontario Municipal Board) whose decisions have overwhelmingly sided with developers who were denied relief from the town plan.

Last, there are provincial laws and regulations that encourage development over notions of the “character of the neighbourhood” that are enshrined in the town plan.

It is up to councillors and staff to address requests for deviations looking at the likely outcome should the matter go on to adjudication by the land tribunal.

A few years ago a developer offered compromises to act as enticements to achieve a negotiated settlement with the town. The town rejected the offer to its regret.

The tribunal approved the development being sought while at the same time concluding that it had no jurisdiction to include the compromises in its decision. Thus, the town experienced the costs of litigation and at the same time came out of the process with fewer protections for nearby residents.

In an account in local media, a councillor was quoted as saying that sometimes the protection of the town plan has to be fought for as a matter of principle. This is hardly prudent stewardship of the town’s tax revenues.

In this era of populist politicians, it is easy to don the mantle of representing the will of the people opposed to the development since the hard decision of the likely outcome of a developer’s appeal is transferred to the tribunal at no personal financial cost to the politician.

It takes courage for councillors (often on the advice of staff) to decide requests based on the overall picture. Litigation and its costs should be undertaken only if there is a reasonable probability of success.

In his June 20 opinion piece, “Lord mayor has broken platform promises,” columnist Brian Marshall focuses on the statements made regarding the initial step of protecting the “character” of our various communities but ignoring candidate Gary Zalepa’s platform promise to rein in wildly escalating legal costs fighting development proposals without any chance of success.

This was reiterated by Lord Mayor Zalepa when he wrote in “Mayor and councillor push back against hotel criticism” (The Lake Report, June 20) in response to another critic’s earlier attack on councillors:  “Rationalization along this line of planning applications in the past had led this town down a costly legal spiral, where the town loses the legal decision and the residents pay the bill, residents having been misled by leadership that there was a case in the first place.”

I am not advocating a capitulation in every case.

Litigation is a costly exercise and responsible councillors should make decisions supporting litigation only in cases where there is a reasonable probability of success.

Town staff are knowledgeable when it comes to all of the factors and actors in the process and their advice should not be ignored lightly.

Ron Fritz
Queenston

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