Mayor Marvin Junkin opened Pelham Town council’s Feb. 16 virtual meeting by issuing a reminder to adhere to proper protocols.

“I’ve let rules relax,” the Mayor said, referring to letting presenters go over their allotted ten-minute time limit, as well as allowing council members to ask more than two questions at a time. Junkin said that from now on the Town Clerk would be activating a 30-second warning bell for speakers to wrap up.

However, council’s first presenter, Matt Robinson, from the Niagara Transit Governance Study, immediately asked for 12 minutes, saying his presentation would go over the time limit.

“On such an interesting subject as transit, we have no trouble giving you the two-minute leeway,” Junkin conceded.

During his presentation, Robinson laid out the Region’s plan for a fully integrated Regional transit system to be in place by September 2022. However, the Mayor and most councillors took issue with what will be asked financially of the Town to support the project in the next decade.

Ward 1’s Wayne Olson highlighted the statistic that Pelham’s current commitment of $261,000 for transit will increase fivefold to $1.25 million by 2029.

Noting that Pelham currently represents only 8,000 of Niagara’s eight million annual transit riders, Olson said, “that seems to be a little bit out of balance to me.”

Councillor John Wink went further, asking why Port Colborne — with a similar population to Pelham — would pay 30 percent less.

Heather Talbot, a member of the Region’s presentation team, explained that the assessment had been done based on average property values, which are higher here than in Port Colborne.

Detail from presentation on the future of regional transit made before Pelham Town Council on Feb. 16, 2021. SUPPLIED

As such, the transit study is built on the philosophy that municipalities with higher tax bases should provide subsidies for infrastructure that assist lower-income residents — a significant chunk of public transit’s ridership — in neighbouring municipalities.

Councillor Ron Kore asked what the consequences would be if Pelham opted out of the program altogether.

Robinson replied that the transit study was still in the consultation process, and that concerns such as Pelham’s would be gathered as the project moves along.

Ward 3’s Bob Hildebrandt cast doubts on public transit in general, citing a recent visit to Toronto where, “nobody was on the streets.”

He added that the pandemic necessitating many people to work from home may usher in a new era where fewer people commute.

“The model where everyone is going to be using transit like they used to has significantly changed,” Hildebrandt asserted.

Robinson said that federal forecasts disagree, and that transit usage across Canada is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels within a few years.

“Nobody’s disputing some [work-from-home] may stay, the reality is that for the last 100 years or more, when transit has dipped … it has always rebounded,” Robinson said.

The Greater Golden Horseshoe Area is expected to reach a population of around 14 million by 2041, from about 9.2 million today.

Eric Gillespie, the former transit director in Kitchener-Waterloo — a region similar in population and suburban sprawl to Niagara — added that in his experience, supply drives demand with transit, and that Niagara’s system had “plateaued.”

It seems to me right now, whatever that Big Three wants, they get

Hildebrandt then took issue with the Niagara’s “Big Three” cities of St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Welland dominating the transit conversation, and by extension the board of the proposed new system.

“What concerns me is the Big Three,” Hildebrandt said. “It seems to me right now, whatever that Big Three wants, they get. And obviously that’s not acceptable.”

Another member of the presentation team, Brendan McIlhone, replied that smaller municipalities like Pelham would normally rotate in and out of such boards, but that those decisions would ultimately be made by Niagara Regional Council.

Junkin, who has been an advocate for public transportation, agreed that the requested financial commitment was a tough sell.

“I don’t know if we’d ever be able to get it this past our residents,” the Mayor said.

Council voted to receive the presentation.

Development news

Council received a staff report recommending approval of the proposed development at 3 Hurricane Road in Fonthill and appear poised to pass the bylaw at their next meeting.

“I will be supporting this recommendation. I know it’s not perfect,” Kore said, hoping that any disagreements from nearby residents can be worked out with the developer. “He’s really being responsible in my point of view,” Kore added of the developer.

The matter was the subject of a public meeting in November, when some neighbours took issue with fencing and the proposed removal of trees. The low-density development calls for four new homes to be built around the existing structure on the large property. Despite some complaints, most of the public feedback had been supportive.

Ward 1 Councilllor Marianne Stewart, however, raised the spectre of the proposed new units doubling, pending Pelham’s expected bylaw changes regarding second dwelling units (SDUs). Wink responded by saying that he didn’t expect every home in Pelham to build SDUs in the future, and also supported it.

Separately, Stewart issued a notice of motion regarding her proposal to have staff report back on a pre-application community meeting protocol between developers and neighbours. Stewart introduced the idea a few months back, basing it on a similar program that exists in Burlington.

The report is expected in May, although Councillor Lisa Haun asked if it was possible to move it up. CAO David Cribbs and Director of Community Planning and Development Barb Wiens said no, given staff’s existing workload with zoning bylaw changes.

Cribbs said that even May remained ambitious, but promised to notify council by April if there were any delays.

COVID-19 update

Fire Chief Bob Lymburner told council that he and most officials in Niagara had expected the Region to move to the red level instead of grey-lockdown last week, and conceded that it led to some “businesses getting ahead of themselves” outside Pelham.

Hildebrandt said the decision led to “mass confusion” among Pelham residents, but Lymburner said that the Town remained on top of the matter, keeping the community centre closed as per regulations.

CAO David Cribbs also said he expected Niagara to move into red, but that staff are ready when that changes.

“We will be prepared to react whatever day that ends up happening, the MCC can reopen that day,” the CAO said.

Lymburner reported that Pelham had ten active cases of COVID-19 as of Feb. 16, and said that 100 percent of Niagara’s long-term care facility residents had received their full dosage of vaccines.

Haun again brought up the issue of children playing in the vicinity of stormwater drainage ponds — in this case skating or playing hockey on their frozen waters.

Lymburner said that bylaw enforcement was on top of it. “We’re there on a regular basis,” he said.

Later, councillors addressed the lack of fencing around some drainage ponds. Hildebrandt moved a motion to work out an approach for fencing or other engineering buffers around the ponds, which was seconded by Wink. Cribbs said a report could be ready by summer.

Odds and ends

Council unanimously approved authorizing $5,000 to go toward a memorial for the late Councillor Mike Ciolfi, although Treasurer Teresa Quinlin said that the funds would currently fall outside the Town’s operating budget. Haun—who is chairing a committee on the memorial — said that ideally most of the $5,000 would not be needed, as the plan is to solicit charitable donations from the public.

Olson highlighted a water distribution system report that lauded Pelham’s water supply. Public Works Director Jason Marr thanked Olson for the kind words. “Our system is a tight system and our water operators do a good job at maintaining that system in ensuring we are providing clean, safe and reliable drinking water to the Town of Pelham,” Marr said.

Cribbs introduced the Town’s new solicitor, Jennifer Stirton, to council.