Bauer Trail balancing act—no roads there leaves wetlands option as likely choice

As reported in The Voice last week, Pelham Town Council passed a motion on Jan. 11 to preserve the Steve Bauer and Gerry Berkhout Trails as they currently exist, throwing a monkey wrench into development plans for expansion of the Kunda Park subdivision in Fonthill. The motion, brought by Ward 2 Councillor John Wink, effectively bans new road crossings — two of which have been proposed in concert with the planned southward extension of Station Street.

“I’d like to go on record by saying I’m not against development … but the trails are Town property and are extremely utilized by residents,” Wink said during the debate.

Under the Kunda Park developer’s proposal, two streets would cross the Bauer Trail between Port Robinson and Merritt Roads, connecting with the Station Street extension and a second subdivision development to the east. Wink said he spoke with the developer at length, and that there were limited alternatives. Provincial government approval has already been granted to cross designated wetlands within the new Kunda site, but such a traverse would provide an extra access/egress into the existing neighbourhood. Wink added that developer overtures to the District School Board of Niagara to purchase a strip of Glynn A. Green School lands was rebuffed, and that the presence of an archaeologically-significant site east of it—where indigenous artifacts have been found— also complicates matters.

“I will state as part of Newton’s Law, every action will have a reaction,” Wink said, expecting the result to be even higher density within the new developments due to removing the roads.

All of council, with the exception of Mayor Marvin Junkin and Ward 1 Councillor Wayne Olson, agreed with Wink’s motion.

“For decades, development that I believe should be guided by the town, has so often been guided by the for-profit developers,” Councillor Marianne Stewart said, inaccurately describing the development process. “I think it’s time for us as the supposed leaders of the town to say, ‘This is the way we need our town to grow, and if you want to develop here, then you need to fit in with our guidelines.’”

(In fact, almost every element of development is codified under federal, Provincial, or Regional regulations, removing almost all major decision-making authority from the hands of local municipalities.)

Ward 2’s Ron Kore also added his two cents, saying he would “fully support” the motion.

Before the vote however, it was urged council enter a private session to receive legal advice. Director of Community Planning and Development Barb Wiens had told council that the Town’s demonstration plan from 2011 illustrated one road crossing over the Bauer Trail, raising the spectre of possible litigation from developers by removing it.

Stewart, however, disagreed with the idea of going in closed session, saying that “all of this discussion should be in the public realm.”

Cribbs, working on a variation of the old legal adage that one who defends himself has a fool for a client, strongly recommended against this.

This motion also does not take into accounts the concerns of residents on Stella Street or John Street

“I do advise you going in closed session to receive some legal advice on this topic,” the CAO said. “I am entitled to give you that. And for whatever reason, if you’re disinclined to do that, I’d like you to go in closed [session] to receive legal advice about the implications of not going in camera to get legal advice when a lawyer advises you to do so.”

Despite chuckling at this, Stewart — along with Kore — were the only holdouts against going into closed session.

After about 45 minutes, the public meeting resumed, and it became apparent that whatever council heard privately was not enough to sway the majority. Olson attempted to defer the vote until Town staff had a chance to submit a formal report on the matter, but failed to obtain a seconder.

Calling the road-cancelling move a “deviation from process,” Mayor Junkin said he wouldn’t support it.

“This motion also does not take into accounts the concerns of residents on Stella Street or John Street,” Junkin said, citing concerns from those quarters about construction vehicles accessing the new site through their neighbourhood. Without the Bauer crossings, those vehicles will need to do just that.

In this decade-old plan for land use, a residential road is shown crossing the Steve Bauer Trail (centre of image). Such plans are relied upon by developers as guides to what is permissible in a given municipal area. TOWN OF PELHAM/VOICE GRAPHIC

Council is scheduled to see plans for both subdivisions and hear from developers at its Feb. 16 meeting.

The entire area at the south end of the portion of the Bauer Trail in question —along Merritt Road — is likely to look much different a decade from now, and will likely come with its own set of complaints. The Region is currently undertaking an environmental assessment on filling in the missing link of Merritt Road between Rice and Cataract Roads — with the intention of creating a corridor to the 406 interchange rebuilt in 2011. Councillor Lisa Haun asserted that a Regional employee told her that project is estimated to be completed in 2025. Subsequent urbanization and reconstruction of Merritt Road to its terminus at Pelham Street is in the Town’s ten-year forecast.

“We anticipate that would take more traffic than there currently is,” Public Works Director Jason Marr said.

Either way, Pelham is not shrinking. According to CAO Cribbs, BMA Consulting Group concluded that last year the town broke the 18,000 mark in population.

“For the record, we’ve overtaken the City of Port Colborne, which is suffering population decline,” the CAO said.

Budgets approved

Council finally approved its 2021 capital and operating budgets, and the wait appeared to be worth it. The tax hike on property owners this year will be just 1.97 percent, an immense decrease from the recommended 4.59 percent tabled in November. The drop can be attributed to Pelham receiving a second round of COVID-19 funding — to the tune of just under $1.3 million — from upper levels of government.

“This is an amazing accomplishment,” Wink said in thanking Town Treasurer Teresa Quinlin and her staff for their work on the budgets. “Kudos to them.”

Cribbs said that delaying the final budget approval was indeed the right call.

“Council’s decision to delay the passage of the budget was the right one. By doing so we were able to wait for further COVID-19 funding before making final decisions,” Cribbs said in an email to The Voice.  “With our strong levy growth we were able to reduce the 2021 tax increase to 1.97 percent, and if it were not for the cost of cannabis litigation, it would be a zero percent tax increase this year.”

During the capital (long-term) budget discussion, Ward 3’s Bob Hildebrandt brought up the tentative plan for a splash pad at Marlene Stewart Streit Park, in Fonthill, and asked about the eventual replacement of the existing swimming pool at the site. The splash pad would require construction of a $200,000 water service line outside of grant money for the actual pad. Quinlin said once the grant money was secured, it could be built anytime between this coming June and 2027. At the same time, the existing 60-year-old swimming pool is marked on the capital budget to be replaced around 2026. Hildebrandt wondered aloud if it was worth considering building a new pool in Fenwick instead.

“Is the pool in the right place? To me it seems that Fenwick and Centennial Park … is the only park I really see as expandable,” Hildebrandt said. “I’m not saying [Fonthill is] the wrong location.”

Quinlin said that the grant application only covered the replacement of the current pool and that moving it had not been raised before.

Either way, both projects remain long-term goals.

This is as well-drafted and as exhaustively written as any in the province of Ontario

In addition to approving a new group benefits plan for staff and a reserve for human resources capacity building, council passed a new bylaw regarding delegation of authority among staff, a document Cribbs said will better define roles inside Town Hall.

“This is the culmination of ten months of work,” the CAO said, estimating that 27 similar bylaws from around Ontario were studied as a template.

“This is as well-drafted and as exhaustively written as any in the province of Ontario,” he said.

Olson agreed, calling it a “sleeper.”

“I was probably involved in 50 to 100 business ‘turnarounds’ over the years,” Olson told the Voice. “Once we had contained the problems, the first thing we did was to define roles and responsibilities. It never failed to improve the organization.”

Airport delay

Olson moved to defer further discussion on Town funding for and the future of the Niagara Central Dorothy Rungeling Airport, citing ongoing circumstances with COVID-19. At a fiery coucil meeting before the holidays, the Olson had asked for the airport board— which includes Haun as the Town’s liaison — for a balance sheet and other documents regarding the aerodrome. Haun asked Olson for an itemized list of what he was requesting, and clarified that the airport’s financial request from the Town of Pelham remains $27,828 this year.

COVID-19 update

Fire Chief and Chief Bylaw Enforcement Officer Bob Lymburner provided his regular pandemic update, saying that as of Jan. 11 the Region had issued six bylaw charges and ten warnings for different violations. Kore asked Lymburner if the Town had “a strategy with the curfew,” ultimately a moot point after Premier Doug Ford eschewed a provincewide curfew in favour of similar stay-at-home orders to those issued early in the pandemic last spring.

Lymburner said that vaccines were set to arrive in Niagara last week, with the Region’s health unit prioritizing long-term care facilities and frontline workers. “It’s going to take some time to get to the general public,” Lymburner said.

Cribbs added in his update that the Town has had discussions about the possible secondment of staff to the Region as the crisis continues.

“[The Region is] finding itself of additional need and support,” the CAO said.

Haun passed along concerns from constituents that with schools on hiatus, some local children were playing near stormwater drainage ponds.

“Thank you for bringing that to our attention, we’ll have [warning] signs up tomorrow,” Cribbs said.

Soos calls for state of emergency

Area activist and previous Ward 1 council candidate Steven Soos made a presentation calling for a state of emergency in Niagara over mental health, homelessness and addiction.

Soos said that 475 overdoses were recorded in Niagara between last January and June, and estimated there were more than 800 homeless people in the Region.

“We will have a real crisis on our hands if we don’t take action today or tomorrow,” he said, asserting that the City of Hamilton —with a population similar to that of the Niagara Region — receives twice the upper-level funding for applicable social services.

When Kore asked Soos for a dollar figure, he was unable to provide it. “I’m not sure on specifics,” he said.

Soos said he has seven of 12 Niagara municipalities on board with the idea, and wanted Pelham to be the eighth. “This doesn’t cost the taxpayers any money,” he said.

Council sounded generally supportive, and voted to receive the presentation.

“It is unfortunate but the pandemic has pushed the opiate addiction problem off to the side,” Junkin said.

Odds and ends

In regards to another concern surrounding the Steve Bauer Trail —the threat to the Carolinian forest vegetation—Olson highlighted a conversation with Mike Jones, of the Pelham Tree Conservation Society.

“I’m of the opinion we’ve done very well on our various endeavours,” Olson said, and urged a “high standard” for Pelham in this area.

“I think it should be something in the nature of a United Nations qualification as an urban tree city or something of that nature,” the Ward 1 councillor said.

Public Works Director Marr told council that staff is in the process of reviewing a first draft of a tree policy, due in late winter or early spring.

“The tree canopy is a very important discussion in this town, that’s for sure,” Mayor Junkin added.

The tree canopy is a very important discussion in this town, that’s for sure

The meeting began with Junkin forgetting his mask. With the Mayor and Clerk Nancy Bozzato as the only two members attending the virtual meeting from council chambers, Bozzato reminded him to don his face gear before the meeting commenced.

Junkin then proceeded to thank Public Works crews for their efforts on Pelham’s White Christmas, a major snowfall that landed overnight Christmas Eve.

Cribbs echoed the sentiments.

“There were calls, emails and Facebook messages,” the CAO said. “That effort generated a lot of goodwill from the community and of course kept people safe. I join the Mayor in wanting to say thank you on the community’s behalf.”

 

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