Pelham Town Council unanimously voted down a developer’s proposal to convert a single-dwelling Fonthill property to townhouses at its September 23 meeting.

The proposal, first heard by Council on August 10, involves demolishing a house on the northeast corner of Pancake Lane and Haist Street and replacing it with three townhomes.

As the matter came up in last week’s council video conference session, Ward 2’s Ron Kore — the councillor for the area in question — was seen urgently raising his hand.

Given the virtual floor, Kore appeared to read from prepared text.

“I will not be supporting [this] … for two main reasons,” Kore said. “This recommendation does not benefit the people in this neighbourhood and our community at whole. The only people that are benefiting will be the developers. Number two, the residents who purchased their properties in the last 40 years did so with the understanding that the neighbourhood was zoned [for single-dwelling units] … the residents did not buy into this, by rezoning it we are letting them down if we approve this recommendation. Thank you.”

Other councillors agreed.

“I don’t believe it’s in the benefit of the neighbourhood,” Marianne Stewart said.

“To take a lot in an existing, established community and jam townhouses into it, I think it’s inappropriate.”

Despite members’ strong feelings on the issue, their decision runs counter to virtually all modern urban planning directives set forth by multiple levels of government. Councillor John Wink appeared to realize this when he attempted to call an immediate closed-session discussion to receive a legal opinion. However, no other councillor seconded his motion, and it failed.

Members were left to discuss publicly what will likely happen next. While Wink voted against the proposal and said he was “willing to take the chance” that the decision could ultimately be overturned, he asked staff what they thought.

“No matter what we do, this will end up going to LPAT [the provincial government’s Local Planning Appeal Tribunal], and what are our chances going to be?” Wink asked.

Director of Community Planning and Development Barb Wiens couldn’t say exactly, but pointed to the fact there already are existing townhouse developments in similarly populated parts of Pelham.

“We have lots of examples in the town of Pelham where there’s townhouse development adjacent to single-detached development,” Wiens said. “I don’t want to say what your chances are of winning this … but it is supported by the various planning policies that exist.”

I don’t want to say what your chances are of winning this … but it is supported by the various planning policies that exist

Wiens also reminded council that the Town will need to retain legal representation if and when the matter goes to LPAT, given that Town staff itself was recommending that council approve the project.

Ward 1’s Bob Hildebrandt didn’t criticize the developer’s proposal as strongly as some of his colleagues, but suggested there appears to be a disconnect between developers and residents of neighbourhoods where similar construction is ongoing.

“In the last month I’ve particularly had two infill developments in my area —both of them have caused considerable angst to the residents and the problem is communication,” Hildebrandt said. “The developers are nowhere, and the builders are nowhere to be found. The people working onsite don’t know anything about it and can’t provide answers, so they come to their councillor, which is fine — which is my job. Then I have to go to staff, and generally it’s dealing with two different staff levels and it goes around a circle.”

He suggested a system be created where developers and residents are able to freely communicate. Either way, Hildebrandt said he’s heard enough negative feedback from residents regarding the Pancake proposal that there was no way he could vote for it.

“I’m not saying this is a bad design, but the number of residents that have come after me now with regards to this property is huge, because they think it’s in my ward. And because I represent the residents, I’m not going to be supporting this motion.”

Design-build debate

Mayor Marvin Junkin took issue with the budget costs associated with a needed culvert bridge in the Balfour Street-16 Road vicinity. The Mayor wondered aloud why “design-build” principles — where a single entity under one contract designs and builds a structure — aren’t used for such projects, therefore causing costs to balloon as the work is split between vendors.

“It makes me growl when I talk to people that replace culverts … we’re spending $100,000 to hire engineers … that for the life of me I still can’t accept the fact that we don’t do these culverts … we just put a picture up on the Town website and say we need this replaced, how would you do it, and how much would it cost,” Junkin said, addressing Public Works Director Jason Marr. “Explain to me again why this is not a possibility?”

Explain to me again why this is not a possibility?

Marr said there was a legal obligation to have a professional design such structures in accordance with code and Ministry of Transportation specifications.

“I appreciate that,” Junkin replied. “But these companies tell me they have their own engineers, they can read government manuals so they know what the specs are, but they pull their hair out and say ‘Marv, you guys, the town, are wasting money. Our engineers can do it cheaper than these other ones you hire.’ When I’m at the grassroots level, and these guys are telling me the town must be doing pretty good to spend $100,000 when you could be putting this out in design-build … I’m not trying to belittle you, I respect you as an engineer, I just think this is not the way to do it, and I remember Mike Ciolfi—god bless his soul—he also made the point that in their industry, that’s what they did, put it on the website, give us a proposal. Again, I’m just a farmer, but I just don’t understand why we’re spending all this money on an engineering firms when the people that are putting these culverts in have their engineering firms with them.”

Marr said that design-build projects are more suited for larger-scale projects.

“Design-build projects are great, and usually when you do a design-build project it comes with a certain ingenuity to the project,” he said. “Replacing a culvert, there’s usually not much innovative insight that goes into the replacement of a culvert or a small bridge.”

CAO David Cribbs agreed with Marr after Junkin jokingly reminded him of Cribbs wagging his finger at the Mayor, telling him design-build projects don’t always work.

“It was a friendly wagging,” Cribbs said with a chuckle. “[But] my basic point then, and it remains my view today, is design-build can work, but you need a certain size, an economy of scale. The average culvert doesn’t hit that. Design-build works really well for things that are complex and big-bucks.”

Junkin said he would “agree to disagree” with the staffers.

Public skating changes

The coronavirus pandemic is expected to bring substantial changes to public skating at the community centre this winter. With skaters and necessary staff currently capped at 50 people, due to provincial regulations, Cribbs said staff will be bringing a report to outline potential options.

“We’re just sort of realizing that demand is exceeding supply, and we need to find ways to address that,” the CAO said.

We’re just sort of realizing that demand is exceeding supply, and we need to find ways to address that

It appears that several of Pelham’s neighbouring municipalities will not offer public skating this season, something Cribbs recognizes could exacerbate matters.

“We’re going to need to figure out whether it needs to be limited to only residents of Pelham,” he said. One possibility is to offer more sessions with shorter time periods. The report is expected at council’s next meeting.

Haun moves to ask for cannabis cash

Councillor Lisa Haun gave notice that she is planning a motion to ask higher levels of government for funding to deal with Pelham’s emerging cannabis-related legal expenses.

“We are already in the receipt of several bills, and going forward we have several more,” she said. “I don’t think we should be looking at raising our taxes, and of course that’s the only thing we can do if we don’t get assistance from the government.” Haun says the plan is to ask for assistance from MPPs, MPs, the Region, and even neighbouring municipalities. She plans to have more information at the next meeting.

Olson takes oath

Newly-elected Ward 1 Councillor Wayne Olson attended the electronic meeting and virtually took his oath of office — filling the seat left vacant by the death of Mike Ciolfi in April.

Olson didn’t speak much during the proceedings, but said his ears were open.

“Councillor Olson, you carried yourself well tonight,” Junkin told him at the meeting’s conclusion.

“Well, thanks everybody, because I learned a lot just listening,” Olson replied.

Odds and ends

Junkin singled out the Royal Canadian Legion Fonthill’s poppy campaign for praise.

“It’s a great community effort that the Legion puts out,” the Mayor said, giving a “shout-out” to Legion members.

This year’s poppy campaign runs from Oct. 30 to Nov. 11. Due to the pandemic, only one cenotaph ceremony will take place this year —at the Legion’s Veterans Garden on Hwy. 20 on Remembrance Day.

Council also voted to extend its own mask bylaw, this time until Dec. 7.

Rumblings about rumbles

Pelham Town Council held a Committee of the Whole meeting Sept. 23, with Canboro Road’s rumble strips again making an appearance.

Pelham Active Transportation Committee (PATC) Chair Beatrice Clark made a presentation featuring a handful of future requests of the Town. One of those was the eventual removal of the strips on Canboro between Haist and Effingham, which, while designed as a traffic safety measure, creates possible danger for cyclists and pedestrians on the sidewalk-free roadway.

“It isn’t just cyclists that have raised the issue of the rumble strips,” Clark told the committee. “In fact, one mother talked about trying to wheel her child in a buggy down the side of the road and found it very difficult to do so.”

In fact, one mother talked about trying to wheel her child in a buggy down the side of the road and found it very difficult to do so

If the matter sounds familiar, it’s because councillors Bob Hildebrandt, Ron Kore and Marianne Stewart voted in favour of removing the strips in June — a potentially costly move they later reversed after Clark pleaded with them that the PATC’s priority was a mostly-paid-for extension of the Steve Bauer Trail.

Neither Kore or Councillor Lisa Haun attended last week’s committee meeting.

As it stands, simply removing the rumble strips would not create necessary space for bike lanes, and major upgrades to this stretch of Canboro are currently not included the Town’s long-term plans.

“The reconstruction of Canboro Road is not in the 20-year forecast,” Public Works Director Jason Marr said. “To get a project like that added would [need] support from council, and engineering would proceed with putting together some rough cost estimates. If we’re talking about a full reconstruction and widening of the platform, which may or may not include property acquisition and utility relocation, I would think that the $1.7 million would seem like a realistic budget.”

Marr estimated that removing the strips alone would cost approximately $50,000.

However, there remains no real timeline on the project, whatever it ends up being. Town Treasurer and Director of Corporate Services Teresa Quinlin suggested that outside funding could come possibly come in the form of a COVID-19-related grant for active transportation initiatives.

“I think we cannot lose sight of this project,” councillor John Wink said.

This month, the Canada Summer Games announced the postponement of the event in Niagara from next year to 2022 due to the pandemic. The Games’ road cycling race prominently featured Pelham, including that particular stretch of Canboro.

Budget schedule

Quinlin presented Pelham’s 2021 budget schedule, which recommended marking Dec. 7 for the consideration of approval of the capital budget. Staff has pushed the authorization of the operating budget to an undetermined date in January — per council’s request that any monies from an expected second round of COVID-19 funding relief from upper levels of government be included. It’s unknown when that funding announcement will be made, but the deadline for the passage of budgets is in March.

Using 2019 figures as an example, a Pelham home appraised at $348,359 would pay $4,469 in property tax, 40 percent of which would go to the Town, with the rest earmarked for the Region and education.

Tennis anyone?

Pelham Tennis Association president Peter Bedard made an appeal to the Town for money for upgrades to the tennis courts at Fenwick Lion’s Park. Citing not only an explosion in the popularity of tennis thanks to the rise of Canadian stars such as Bianca Andreescu, Bedard also mentioned an increased local interest in pickleball, which is essentially doubles tennis on a smaller court.

Presentation slide from the Pelham Tennis Association, who appeared before Town Council to request funding for tennis court upgrades. YOU TUBE

Aside from needed fixes to cracked surfaces, Bedard’s renderings suggested converting one of the existing Fenwick courts into pickleball surfaces. The price tag appears steep, however. Asked for what he called a “guesstimate” of the upgrades, Bedard pegged the price at $250,000. He cited similar improvements at a Welland facility as costing $130,000.