Election 2022: Finishing official plan a key priority, new mayor says

Election day was a storm of activity for Gary Zalepa.

It started with cautious optimism at a campaign rally on the corner of Four Mile Creek Road and Niagara Stone Road, and ended by the bar rail of the Sandtrap late in the evening soaking in his victory.

It was a contentious race among Zalepa, incumbent Betty Disero and newcomer Vaughn Goettler.

Zalepa earned 3,724 votes, nearly half the ballots cast for mayor, beating Disero by 1,138 votes. Goettler received 1,268 votes.

Now, the work begins and once he takes office Zalepa said the “first part is really getting the team formed.”

Tim Balasiuk, Adriana Cater Vizzari, Maria Mavridis and Nick Ruller will be this council’s four rookies and getting them on the same page with the rest of the council is the first step, he said.

Zalepa said he wants to prioritize the town’s strategic plan “out of the gate” and get it “integrated into the town’s official plan.”

The official plan was a priority project for the previous council but its approval has been delayed because of the province re-evaluating its initial population projections for Niagara region.

Paraphrasing a town staff report, Zalepa said NOTL's plan “was incongruent with the provincial policy statement.”

He described the previous council’s accomplishments on the official plan as a “false positive.”

The plan is now on hold as staff work to make it conform with the region’s plan.

Zalepa may find another early obstacle being lobbed at him by the provincial government thanks to the More Homes Built Faster Act.

Doug Ford's government introduced the new legislation Tuesday to permit zoning amendments to residential properties and allow owners and developers to build three units per lot.

The move aims to dramatically increase the housing density of urban areas.

“This is why it's so important to get the strategic plan done,” Zalepa said.

He believes the town will be able to work with upper levels of government to get ensure areas like Old Town are protected from densification.

“There'll be an ability for municipalities to show that density targets can vary as long as overall we're hitting them,” he added.

The town is currently on track to hit its densification targets until 2032.

Zalepa said he decided to run because he felt he “could bring council together more cohesively,” adding that his particular style seemed to be what was missing.

Returning Coun. Erwin Wiens, who will be deputy lord mayor, told The Lake Report in an interview at the Sandtrap that he is looking forward to working with Zalepa and that for the next four years, "the buck will stop with us."

Evan Loree, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report