Controversial Parliament Oak hotel approved in close vote

Despite pleas from residents opposed to it, Niagara-on-the-Lake councillors approved a developer's controversial plan to build a 129-room hotel on the site of the old Parliament Oak school.

The approval by the planning committee allows Two Sisters Resorts Corp. to move forward with the 19-metre tall hotel in the middle of a residential neighbourhood in Old Town.

The project will include a restaurant and patio, spa and personal services, banquet/conference facilities and associated retail uses.

Following hours of presentations and debate Tuesday night, the zoning amendment making way for the proposal by developer Benny Marotta's company was approved in a 5-4 vote.

Couns. Tim Balasiuk, Gary Burroughs, Sandra O’Connor and Nick Ruller were opposed.

Couns. Wendy Cheropita, Maria Mavridis, Adriana Vizzari, Erwin Wiens and Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa were in favour.

With the planning committee's favourable vote, the only further hurdle the plan faces is a formal vote by council.

The next council meeting is June 25.

A number of residents immediately walked out of the meeting following the decision.

Before the zoning change to commercial from institutional use was approved by the committee, nine residents made presentations to voice their concerns.

Gracia Janes spoke on behalf of the NOTL Conservancy.

The King Street resident considers the amendment to be “completely contrary to over 50 years of town, regional, provincial, national planning for this very special heritage town,” Janes said.

Other residents echoed the same sentiment.

Before Connie Tintinalli moved to NOTL, she said she admired its small-town charm.

“Before we moved here almost 25 years ago, my husband and I liked to come and wander the quiet residential streets and dream of living here. Those quiet residential streets are disappearing before our eyes,” she said.

Tintinalli said building a hotel in the middle of a residential area will totally disrupt the community.

Aside from aesthetics, other issues were raised by residents.

Claire Cameron, a former councillor, took to the podium to speak on behalf of the Niagara Foundation regarding the loss of public and community space with the rezoning of the school grounds.

“If approved as-is, it will drastically and permanently reduce the amount of land where residents might experience the traditions and culture of our community,” she said.

Cameron said the foundation is not opposed to hotels and tourism on principle, but believes a truly complete community “needs room to exist.”

Resident Marilyn Bartlett’s presentation was echoed some of Cameron’s statements, saying the proposal puts tourism and employment above the needs of residents.

After a short break, councillors deliberated the controversial issue.

Ruller seemed to side with residents, saying the land could be used for something that more residents could make use of.

Balasiuk shared that sentiment, noting that Niagara doesn't have enough institutional land any more.

“I think we’d be remiss if we ended up just folding on this piece of property. I think it’s an opportunity to have something built that’s in line with the zoning,” he said.

On the other end of the spectrum, Cheropita saw the development as a great way to bring luxury to Niagara-on-the-Lake.

“When we did the tourism strategy, it was uncovered that one of the gaps we had in NOTL is that we did not have five–star accommodations,” she said.

Zalepa commented that ultimately the hotel will be a positive for the community.

"I know that it's a balancing act of hearing from some people in the community, but there's 19,000 other people who live here too— and speaking with many of them I fell that this is a project that the community is ready to accept, if it is done right," he said.

Julia Sacco, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report