Costly East Fonthill public square idea essentially killed

Special to the VOICE

The grandiose vision of a European-inspired, pedestrian-and-cyclist-prioritized public square all but met its death during Pelham Town Council’s October 21 session, with councillors instead choosing to focus on the parking of mostly carbon-belching automobiles.

The proposal for the “woonerf” —a Dutch term for “shared street”—was part of the original 2014 East Fonthill plan, and called for a central lawn, ice skating trail and “water feature” directly across the northwest corner of the community centre.

The idea had re-emerged as the Town tries to put together its application for an Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program grant, discussed at a previous council meeting. That federal grant could provide up to 73 percent of funding of improvements to the MCC, to which the Town is debating moving the main branch of the Pelham Library. The deadline for the grant application is November 12.

When Councillor Bob Hildebrandt presented a motion to investigate including the “Urban Town Square” development in the grant, council’s true feelings about the plan emerged.

“Stop calling it ‘woonerf’… nobody can pronounce it, [nobody] knows what the heck it is,” Councillor Lisa Haun said at one point.

This came after Councillor Marianne Stewart asked about the issue of parking around the Dutch doohickey. The immediate area around the MCC already lacks parking, and the hasty proposal to build the library addition onto the complex would require spaces for at least 50 more vehicles.

Treasurer Teresa Quinlin also shed light on cold, hard cash —specifically, that the Town would still need to come up with close to a million dollars for the woonerf if it was included in the federal grant application.

“If you’re submitting this as part of the grant, we’re going to have to come up with $950,000 to pay for this as our portion,” she said.

“We’re looking at replacements of fire trucks coming up,” Councillor Mike Ciolfi said. “I know it’s a grant, but it’s still a good chunk of cash … we just can’t afford it right now.”

With the issues now intertwined, council chose the side of parked cars in terms of the grant application.

“If we don’t go with the existing idea of the woonerf with the skating and all the other things we can’t afford, could we come up with a plan … could we then put in the parking stalls as part of that grant?” Haun asked Quinlin.

“Do you use the woonerf land as parking?” the Treasurer replied. “The big decision here is, if council still supports the woonerf plan … but it’s still going to cost the Town almost a million dollars. If the answer is no, we need to earmark money for [library] parking.”

Council then dealt with the logistics of amending the motion, with Mayor Marvin Junkin openly desiring to kill the woonerf sooner rather than later.

“Is there really any will on this council … because if there’s no reason, why don’t we get rid of it right now?” he asked. “I honestly don’t think this council is dedicated to the woonerf. We’re not dedicated to the skating path.”

Council then unanimously voted to not to “maintain the vision” of the urban town square.

Council then unanimously approved the sale of lands for seniors developments in East Fonthill, also adjacent to the MCC. Announced October 16, the sale of 8.56 acres to developer Samer El-Fashny will net the Town $4.7 million.

“All of council has been waiting impatiently for this deal to close,” Junkin said at the time. “The development of this seniors complex is great news for all residents of the town, and of course, all money received from the sale of this parcel of land will be used to pay down the [community centre construction] loan owed to Infrastructure Ontario.”

Cribbs defends price of accessibility

Both Councillors Haun and Kore appeared to take issue with the fact that the Town pays $10,000 a year to a private sector specialist working on compliance toward the provincial government’s accessibility laws.

Town Clerk Nancy Bozzato told council that Donna Herrington, of the Herrington Group, has done the work for Pelham and other Niagara municipalities since the early 2000s, with her contract jointly reviewed every two years.

“My only concern is … $10,000 times six or seven different municipalities,” Haun said. “What exactly is being done for $10,000 of Pelham taxpayer money?”

Town CAO David Cribbs defended the contract as a bargain.

“Allow me to suggest if I may … this committee is (a), a statutory requirement, and (b), the only time I’ve seen a municipality be able to offer one of these committees on as little as $10,000 anywhere I have worked in Ontario,” he said.

“The value for money is more or less off the Richter Scale … this is one of the examples … of excellence, and the best possible way that six municipalities for very reasonable price got professional advice that is well beyond the capacity of the staff. We’re able to get it for $10,000 only because we aggregate it.”

Ontario municipalities are required to meet new provincial accessibility standards by 2025.

“Appreciate the information,” Kore replied to Cribbs.

“Noted,” said Haun.

New website

Council also heard from Town Communications and Public Relations Specialist Marc MacDonald on the relaunch of the municipal website. The new version is substantially more user-friendly than the old one, something MacDonald said was overdue.

“This redesign was needed,” he said. “Users were having a difficult time navigating our site and finding information, and for a municipal website that’s a major problem. We want to ensure that information is waiting for a user when they visit our site, and this redesign has addressed many of the issues we would hear about.”