Niagara-on-the-Lake is no longer the quaint small town that many people who grew up here long for.
Now, among many things, it is a major tourist destination, a thriving agricultural community and home to purveyors of some excellent Niagara wines.
But it is growing and destined to grow more — and continue to change. I think we all know that, intellectually — though we all want a say in how that happens.
Not an unreasonable expectation, given the historic and special nature of NOTL.
With tourism growing (like it or not) and wine-loving visitors continuing to come here year-round, those guests need places to stay.
We don’t want to see an eruption of even more short-term rentals in residential neighbourhoods, nor do many of us want to see luxury, boutique hotels pop up in established residential areas.
It defies sound planning practices, brings huge concerns about noise, traffic and congestion on narrow Old Town streets — and, really, is just plain un-neighbourly.
The fact that the Parliament Oak redevelopment project is the brainchild of developer Benny Marotta doesn’t matter. Or it shouldn’t.
However, Marotta has done little to soften his aggressive approach to development, seemingly bulldozing his way toward getting what he wants.
That is unfortunate. But it also doesn’t really matter.
All that should really matter is what is appropriate for the former elementary school site — and a booming boutique hotel is not the right choice in my view.
Whether there is even a business case for another NOTL hotel is questionable, but I’ll leave that to the developers and planners to figure out.
A long-established, quiet, low-rise residential area of Old Town should not be seen as a place in which to build a sprawling hotel.
The proposal — which requires a zoning change in order to become a reality — has faced criticism for many of its physical features, including its look and height.
These are valid concerns given the neighbourhood in which Marotta’s company wants to build.
The hotel project just doesn’t fit in.
The proposal by a previous owner of the land, Montreal-based Liberty Sites (3) Ltd., was met with equally vigorous opposition, when that company proposed an apartment building and a few semi-detached homes.
I know developers expect (and perhaps, given the risks they take, deserve) to earn a healthy return on their investments.
Land development is essential to growth – and growth in NOTL is inevitable.
Something that has always confounded me about Marotta — a man I have never met, nor ever spoken to — is how he has never been able to find a way to give people a bit of what they’re asking for (in this case, mainly single-family residential homes) to earn a quick-and-easy win.
And a large public greenspace could make it lasting legacy.
I know NOTLers can be demanding. As community news publishers, we experience their feedback every week. Sometimes those expectations are reasonable, sometimes not. It’s a conversation.
But rather than a war of attrition — and lawyers and court cases and land tribunals — how difficult can it really be for Marotta to try to work with the larger community to produce a win-win for all involved? Too naïve and Pollyanna-ish?
No doubt both sides wouldn’t be 100 per cent happy with the outcome, but at least they wouldn’t be at war. And shovels would be in the ground.
Marotta literally owns NOTL. By my top-of-the-head estimation, he has acquired more land and owns more businesses than anyone else in town.
So, he is not going away. He has a home here, a major winery (with another under development), restaurants … plus many undeveloped projects.
Niagara-on-the-Lake and its largest developer would both benefit from working together.