Conflict mars busy council planning meeting

·3 min read

Development, a controversial hot-button issue in Niagara-on-the-Lake, was the focus of a committee of the whole meeting on Monday.

Councillors' frustrations over feeling limited in their ability to control development led to some heated discussion.

Craig Larmour, the director of development and community services, fielded an array of questions regarding planning and development from councillors throughout the 4.5-hour meeting.

“This is quite a bit of information on the fly. When I say ‘on the fly,’ I just mean it’s a lot to consume, I’m just seeing it for the first time,” he said after repeated questions regarding the Queenston Mile Estate Winery.

Coun. Erwin Wiens also used the phrase when talking about council decisions regarding the estate winery.

That did not sit well with Lord Mayor Betty Disero.

“I have to tell you, as a member of this council, I am totally offended by comments like ‘on the fly,' ” she said.

Disero said council members only have a few days to review all the staff reports that get prepared for committee and council meetings.

She suggested discussion during council meetings was integral to the job.

“What bothers me is that if we’re just supposed to approve the reports that are in front of us, without making any comments at all or any changes or adjustments, they may as well just elect a turnip,” Disero said.

If councillors think their job is just to approve, without question, what staff brings forward then "why bother filling the seat?” she added.

Coun. Clare Cameron also felt the term was insulting.

“It’s hard not to take it as an insult even if it isn’t meant as one,” she said.

“It’s hard not to take it as a tactic to undermine the attempts of elected officials to do our job, to make adjustments from the political perspective.”

Disero was particularly frustrated that Larmour said the town wouldn’t be able to answer what she perceived as simple yes or no questions about Queenston Mile for at least two months.

“I don’t know why it would take two months to say, ‘yes,’ ” she said.

“I’m truly sorry for your frustration,” chief administrator Marnie Cluckie said.

Larmour and Cluckie explained that the town has staff shortages after one town planner quit and there are several vacancies yet to be filled.

“When I said (on the fly) I was not suggesting that council was acting on the fly but that I didn’t want to provide a response that wasn’t thought out,” Lamour said after apologizing.

Wiens also retracted his statement.

“I don’t want to be pejorative because communication, if it goes downhill, doesn’t solve anything,” he said.

Councillors were interested in how they could have more control over development in the municipality.

But the town does not have many options to influence infill or redevelopment areas such as the Parliament Oak development, according to Larmour.

Coun. Norm Arsenault felt the town had missed its chance to take control of development.

“There is something we can do but it’s a long-term process, it’s the community planning permit system, something we should have done two and a half years ago,” he said.

That system allows the town to set its own standards for development in designated areas of a municipality, according to the Ontario government's website.

The community planning permit system needs to be included in a municipality's official plan to be used.

NOTL passed its official plan in 2019.

“It’s probably time for us as a council to have a workshop on planning-related issues,” Cameron told her colleagues.

Evan Saunders, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report

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