Policy and Priorities Committee deals with developers
BY JOHN CHICK
Special to the VOICE
Fonthill doesn’t do big and tall. That was the message at the September 3 Policy and Priorities Meeting of Pelham Town Council, with members voting down a development proposal to convert the existing office building at 1440 Pelham Street —facing Pelham Town Square, the site of the former (and future) arches — to a five-storey, mixed use complex.
The current building is two storeys tall, and contains a pub and dentist’s office on the main floor, and a gym on the second.
The redevelopment proposal by owner Richard Taylor, a retired chiropractor, and Colonnade 1440 Inc., was not based on a teardown and the rebuilding of a new structure. Instead, the plans called for a new addition to be built atop the existing structure, and included 12 residential units.
“This would significantly alter the appearance of downtown,” said Councillor Lisa Haun, one of four to vote against the re-zoning plan.
The area is currently zoned for buildings up to three floors only. New developments across Pelham Street count up to four storeys from the back, because they are built on the eastward slope into Town Square.
The redevelopment proposal called for four floors of usable space and a fifth partial level reserved for an elevator penthouse. One of the sticking points with council appeared to be parking. Fifty-one spaces at the rear of the development were included in the plan, a number that Haun didn’t feel was adequate given the increased density. When Director of Community Planning and Development Barb Wiens suggested that the nearby Market Square municipal lot and street parking could handle any overflow, Haun objected.
“The only thing with using a municipal parking lot to offset parking shortage is it’s not fair to taxpayers first of all, and second of all, if we have events like Summerfest or the market, or any of the other functions that might tie up the lot, then where do people park?” she asked.
Traffic on the particular stretch of Pelham Street in front of the building can be busy at times, making both parking and turning to and from Town Square hazardous. Proposals for a traffic signal have been floated over the years.
Still, not all councillors were against the development proposal. Ward 3’s Bob Hildebrandt supported it, as it concentrated densification efforts downtown.
“If I’m going to vote for [density] intensification anywhere, I’m going to vote for intensification downtown,” he said, citing larger cities and the design of old-world European communities.
Still on the topic of development, tempers flared in committee again over modern, progressive design sensibilities versus the sprawl-based approach of recent generations. Specifically, the draft plan for Phase 3 of the Saffron Meadows development off Port Robinson Road elicited debate over the ever-shrinking size of front yards in newer homes —and the fact that the Town would need to amend its zoning bylaw in order to appease the developer’s plans for smaller frontage.
Fed-up with hearing pushback to the request, Mayor Marvin Junkin raised his voice in defense of more sustainable developments.
“It just boggles my mind how people … know better than provincial planning policy, they know better than society, that is saying we’ve had enough urban sprawl, we’re using up too much farmland,” the Mayor said. “But no, this council knows better. It blows me away that this council knows better about intensification than public and provincial policy and planners from the Region and what have you, but no, Pelham has got to have bigger yards so that in 10 to 15 years we can expand our urban boundaries more and eat up more farmland.”
Ward 2 Councillor Ron Kore appeared to take the commentary as directed at him.
“As a councilor I don’t know more than anybody else, but I know what my citizens are asking, and that’s the way I vote,” he said.
“It wasn’t a personal attack” Junkin exclaimed, before Councillor Mike Ciolfi, chairing the Committee, interjected to restore order.
One aspect of the issue is that Pelham’s zoning bylaw was last updated in 1987.
“Our zoning bylaw is out of date,” Wiens said prior to the exchange, citing the near-universal shift to higher population density and smaller properties. CAO David Cribbs pointed out part of the reason for this is that Pelham lacks a policy specialist that most other communities have.
“This is the first municipality, even of this size, that I’ve ever heard of, that doesn’t have a policy planner on staff,” Cribbs said, before making an offbeat analogy. “It’s actually the length of a life sentence. If you killed someone [in 1987] you’d have been out of jail by now, and we still don’t have a new zoning bylaw in that time.”
Still, Haun tabled an amendment that would require the Saffron Meadows developer to maintain a minimum front yard size.
Knowing the developer would balk and appeal any thrown monkey wrenches to higher provincial authorities, Junkin said the idea was pointless.
“It’ll cost us $20 or $30 thousand dollars and we will lose,” he said.
Haun’s amendment was subsequently defeated. Committee then voted to accept the report.
Tripling Town Hall’s flagpoles
The Policy and Priorities Committee voted to accept a clerk’s report that would see the Town adopt a flag policy for outside Town Hall— along with the $6,000 cost of adding two more flagpoles. The report appeared to be borne out of complaints from some quarters that Town Hall’s only current flagpole occasionally sees the Canadian flag taken down the in order to fly “community flags”— such as those for various charities and for observances such as LGBTQ Pride Month.
The committee briefly discussed going in the opposite direction with a strict one-flag rule, like one in West Lincoln that mandates only the Canadian flag be flown outside the Town Hall. Junkin warned that such a move would open the door to criticism, given the third-rail nature of the political optics.
“What’s at issue is this one particular flag,” said Ward 2 Councillor John Wink, clearly referring to the gay pride rainbow flag. “These people are still part of our community and times are changing. I think we’ve got to be a little inclusive, and a little more supportive of these initiatives.”
The plan would call for two more flagpoles to be added, bringing the total to three. As per flag etiquette, the Canadian flag, the Ontario flag and the Town of Pelham flag would be flown, with the Pelham flag coming down and replaced periodically with a community flag when applied for and permitted.
The war memorial flag at the back of Town Hall is unaffected, and would continue to fly the Canadian flag 365 days a year.
The committee also voted to push back the public meeting regarding gypsy moths to Oct. 23 at 6:30 PM from Oct. 15. The meeting had to be moved to a larger room at the community centre because of space concerns.
“We’re gonna get a lot more than 60 people out,” Junkin said.
Earlier in council, Ciolfi was insistent that a request for proposal (RFP) be done regarding contracting for next year’s gypsy moth control program. Cribbs assured him that is always the protocol the Town follows, unless in the event of an emergency. Ciolfi has been pointedly critical of this year’s gypsy moth program, overseen by contractor Trees Unlimited.
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