Pelham Town Council unanimously endorsed a 25 percent population intensification target and 40 new hectares of urban land over the next 30 years, as set out in a staff report, during its June 21 meeting. Growth is being imposed upon Niagara municipalities by Niagara Region, which in turn is required to adhere to provincial guidelines.

While all council members appeared to be in agreement with Pelham’s targets, Ward 3’s Bob Hildebrandt used the discussion to again urge Niagara Region to lower the area’s overall intensification target to 50 percent from 56 percent, tabling an amendment to do so.

Mayor Marvin Junkin disagreed with the idea.

“I’m all for intensification. You’re either going to intensify or you’re going to have urban sprawl going from Fort Erie to Grimsby to Waterloo to wherever,” the Mayor said. “You’ve got to take a stand … the planners, the province, that’s why they have intensification to try and cut down urban sprawl.”

Hildebrandt replied that he wasn’t anti-intensification.

“I understand intensification,” he said. “The Region has to walk before they can run. I agree with intensification, but let’s walk before we can run.”

Ward 1’s Wayne Olson then entered the fray.

“We’re recommending to the Region what they should do, is that what this is?” he asked Hildebrandt.

“They’ve asked all municipalities for comment,” Hildebrandt responded. “If you read the minutes from [the June 7 meeting] … they’re asking for council’s comments.”

Olson replied sharply, making note of Hildebrandt’s previous attempt to lower the Regional target.

“Thank you for the comment about the minutes. I did read the minutes, and I do read my mail. It was defeated at the last council meeting, I think,” Olson said.

“Sorry, Councillor Olson, it was not defeated, we delayed it, the CAO advised us that we would be getting a report,” replied Hildebrandt.

“Thank you for that further correction,” Olson retorted. “I will still be voting no.”

Ward 3’s Lisa Haun came to her ally Hildebrandt’s defense, pointing out that the provincial government has recommended an intensity target of 50 percent.

However, Director of Community Planning and Development Barb Wiens then explained that the 56 percent number exists solely because of the combined average of all Niagara municipalities. For example, Pelham and Niagara-on-the-Lake are pegged at 25 percent intensification, while St. Catharines and Welland are at 90 and 60 percent, respectively. Grimsby, meanwhile, has the highest target, at 98 percent intensification, perhaps explaining the explosive lakeside condominium growth in that community.

“Aren’t we just splitting hairs?” Ward 2 Councillor John Wink asked. “We’re all in agreement of the 25 percent [for Pelham].”

Hildebrandt’s amendment then lost in a 4-3 vote, with Marianne Stewart breaking ranks from the usual bloc of herself, Hildebrandt, Haun and Ron Kore.

In a map provided as part of the staff report, five areas are targeted for expansion of the urban boundary, including an area east of Rice Road that borders both Thorold and Welland. This zone figures to be prominently involved in the Region’s future plan to extend Merritt Road and create another corridor to the 406.

Budget schedule passed

Another Hildebrandt amendment also failed at the meeting, this one regarding an attempt to push back approval of next year’s capital budget to January from December. The Ward 3 councillor’s argument was that the Town was wise to delay this year’s budget due to the prospect of incoming Covid-19 funding. However, with the pandemic appearing to be winding down, Town Treasurer Teresa Quinlin explained that sooner is better for approval of the capital budget because of project planning. Haun then again tried to help Hildebrandt by suggesting a decision be deferred to the next council meeting, on July 21.

“We’re not approving these budgets at this point in time anyways,” Wink said in rebuttal. “Whatever happens in the next month has no bearing on this schedule.”

The motion was defeated, this time with Councillor Kore choosing not to side with Hildebrandt.

The schedule was then approved, with the capital budget expected in December.

Third time a charm

Hildebrandt did manage to score a win by convincing the full bloc, and by extension council, not to endorse a Niagara Escarpment Commission (NEC) proposal to streamline minor development permit applications. As it stands, all development proposals on lands under the NEC’s purview must be approved by the commission— even something as minor as the addition of a deck to a house. The NEC’s proposed streamlining applications to remove the need to notify the Town of Pelham of such minor variances, theoretically reducing staff workload.

“That means they’re going to do something in our area they consider minor, they don’t want to send us any notice. I do not agree with that,” Hildebrandt said.

Junkin disagreed.

“I’m [located within] the NEC, and they do have the number one say on my farm, and if they say something, the Town rubber stamps it,” the Mayor said. “And if they say it’s minor … believe me, you can’t do too much without—well, you can’t do anything, usually, without them looking over your shoulder.”

Hildebrandt rebutted by voicing concern about construction on wetlands east of Toronto.

“It seems to me the provincial government is forcing development into areas I don’t think are appropriate,” he said.

The vote to shoot down approval came via the familiar 4-3 vote of Hildebrandt, Stewart, Haun and Kore vs. Olson, Wink, and Junkin.

Another MCC generator needed

Hildebrandt provided an update on his work with the Town’s Utility Sustainability Committee (USC), and detailed how the community centre likely requires a secondary power generator.

Hildebrandt said that power usage has doubled at the facility since it became a vaccination site, mostly due to the HVAC system running 24 hours a day. However, in studying the vagaries of the building’s electricity, the USC determined that the current generator was primarily designed to service the lighting.

“The electrical system was never designed by an engineer,” he said. “Remember we’ve got an emergency management plan that’s planning on using this facility as an emergency base … it’s a major cost, a major task.”

Hildebrandt posited that such a generator would cost $100,000 or more. Public Works Director Jason Marr said that no remaining money from the building’s budget was held back for reconfiguring electrical work.

The discussion also came on the heels of a presentation by Pelham’s Climate Change Coordinator Bani Maini. As extreme weather events increase due to climate change, the MCC’s role as an emergency centre becomes more foreseeable.

Councillor Olson thanked Maini for her work, first making note that the day was National Indigenous Peoples Day.

“I just mention that because of the sad events we’ve heard about, most recently in Kamloops,” Olson said of the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at a former residential school (the meeting occurred before the more recent discovery of 751 more graves at a different site in Saskatchewan).

“You and your team have done a terrific job,” Olson told Maini of the Town’s plan to increase the capacity to adapt to climate change. “I think it’s one of the most detailed plans I’ve ever seen.”

No money for MCC library move yet

Still with the community centre, Treasurer Quinlin told council she still hadn’t heard back on a grant application that would pay for moving the Pelham Library to a future addition at the MCC. Council endorsed the idea last year as upper-level funding could pay for the addition, thereby freeing up the existing Fonthill library to be liquidated in a land sale.

Performance standards

In a motion tabled by Hildebrandt, council approved directing Town Human Resources staff to develop a formalized performance evaluation process for the position of CAO. However, following apparent negotiations before the meeting, the motion was revised at the eleventh hour to implement the plan for next year— as opposed to this year, as Hildebrandt originally tabled.

Changing criteria at the end of an evaluation period rather than at the start could be viewed as categorically unfair to current CAO David Cribbs, who is nearing completion of his second year on the job.

The change apparently occurred so close to last Monday’s meeting that Wink did not receive the refreshed document.

“What we’re being asked for now, is we’re changing that target,” Wink said in defence of Cribbs. “I don’t think that’s being fair to the individual. If you ask me how he did, look at our 2020 report, and I would say his leadership was instrumental in all the things we accomplished this year.”

Hildebrandt apologized for the late change, but snafu aside, all members agreed with a standardized procedure going forward.

“It’s deemed so important to have a performance review for a [municipal] CAO in the province of Alberta that it’s legislated,” Haun said.

Sulphur Spring

Public Works Director Marr told council that the contractor working on the long-awaited Sulphur Spring Drive reconstruction had not received its permits as of June 21. In-water working restrictions means much of the project must be completed between July 1 and August 30. The road has been closed since 2016 due to severe erosion alongside Twelve Mile Creek. Still, Marr was confident the project would be completed on time.

“The contractor is working diligently … we feel we are handling the process properly and will deliver a good-quality project by the end of this year,” he said.

Odds and ends

Hildebrandt took a moment to contradict Trout Unlimited’s Brian Green, who presented to council on June 7 regarding Hildebrandt’s obstinate objection to St. Catharines spending $250,000 on Twelve Mile Creek remediation measures in Pelham. Hildebrandt asserted that an NPCA report said an old cannery pond—where the work is set to take place — while warming, is not presently too warm for trout.

“All they’re saying is the heat doesn’t reach the lethal limit for brook trout,” Hildebrandt said. “Mr. Green stated the pond temperature exceeded the lethal limit for brook trout.”

◼︎Council voted to continue the Town’s mask bylaw until the expiration of Niagara Region’s mask bylaw.

◼︎Virtual Council meetings were approved to be able to continue through March 2022, depending on the status of the pandemic.

◼︎Council observed a moment of silence for former longtime Councillor Gary Accursi, who passed away June 7.