Vaccine politics were split along familiar lines in Pelham during council’s April 4 virtual meeting, with the allied bloc of Councillors Lisa Haun, Bob Hildebrandt, Ron Kore and Marianne Stewart successfully suspending vaccination mandates for Town officials and staff.

A staff report had recommended keeping mandates for municipal staff while excluding committee volunteers and third-party contractors from such requirements.

“When we put this policy in place some time ago, I think it was needed. Many companies no longer have their policies in effect,” Haun said, adding that mandates could always be brought back. “I think by suspending our policy, it allows us, if things turn south … to re-enact it if need be. I have recognized that this is a different time.”

Early in the pandemic, Haun was critical of what she perceived as Pelham’s inadequate response to Covid-19.

The provincial government dropped vaccine passports and masking requirements outside of healthcare facilities and public transit last month. Pelham had logged 132 cases of Covid-19 in the 28 days ending April 4. While wastewater signalling across Ontario indicated a large spike in infections, ICU capacity remained stable despite an uptick in hospitalizations. According to the Ontario Science Table, the rate of both those eventualities has been consistently and substantially higher for unvaccinated people.

Mayor Marvin Junkin and Councillors Wayne Olson and John Wink voted unsuccessfully to keep the vaccine mandates.

“As much as we don’t like it, the virus is still around,” Junkin said. “As a board [member] on a corporate entity, I’m going to err on the side of safety.”

Wink urged the Town to revisit the policy within six months.

Haun’s fellow Ward 3 Councillor Bob Hildebrandt suggested dividing the staff report to vote on each option individually, but CAO David Cribbs pointed out that would create a conflict by voting to suspend the mandate entirely while also modifying its details.

“Suspend the policy or maintain it, plain and simple,” the CAO said.

Stewart agreed with Haun.

“If things change, we can review it,” she said. “It’s not a revocation.”

Stewart’s Ward 1 colleague Wayne Olson shot back: “That’s called locking the door after the horse has run out of the barn.”

Haun cited the ending of mask mandates as a sign it was time to move on. “This is a changing landscape and we need to adapt,” she said.

“I hope you’re right,” Olson replied.

Parking study protested

Council was finally presented with a long-awaited municipal parking study, but Haun and Stewart specifically took issue with the consultant group’s findings.

The study was originally planned before the pandemic, but subsequent lower traffic patterns both delayed and affected it — something consuting firm RV Anderson’s Nick Palomba and Adam Mildenberger tried to stress.

The study indicated unsurprising priorities — a lack of sufficient parking both at the MCC and in the “Shoppes of Ridgeville” area — but even while factoring in forecasted Pelham growth over the next ten years, the research found that parking in downtown Fonthill and Fenwick is actually adequate.

However, Haun questioned what population growth metrics the consultants used, saying their figures were “very modest.”

Palomba said the formula used was a low-end growth rate of one percent per year, and a high-end rate of two percent. Essentially, the latter lines up with Niagara Region’s future growth projections for Pelham, which forecasts an additional 9,000 residents — or roughly a 52 percent increase — over the next 29 years. While there is no guarantee each year sees the same growth rate, the parking study only looked ahead for the next decade, which estimated 20 percent population growth on the high side.

Palomba added that another parking study should be undertaken a few years down the road, stating that 2023 or 2024 still may not be soon enough to truly gauge if pandemic trends remain — be it the proliferation of work-from-home jobs, or different dining habits that see many people opt for take-out or delivery over visiting restaurants.

Haun, unimpressed, asked the consultants if they even lived in the area.

“Is your location, are you out of Toronto by chance?” she questioned.

“No, we’re out of St. Catharines,” Palomba replied.

The consultants also reiterated modern-day spacing and sustainability issues faced by virtually every growing municipality in North America— that at some point in the future, there will simply be no room for more cars. As such, in addition to expanded parking capacity at the MCC and in Ridgeville, the study recommended increased cycling and pedestrian connections, as well as public transit options.

Speaking on building more parking, Junkin asked the consultants, “Is it safe to say no one builds for the peak? Because I already know what the answer is.”

Palomba replied: “No, you generally don’t design for the peak. It’s financial, but it’s also environmental … you have all these paved areas that aren’t used.”

It’s financial, but it’s also environmental … you have all these paved areas that aren’t used

Stewart, however, suggested they didn’t have to be paved.

“I’m not sure how many times I’ve suggested this, but … as we move forward with parking it doesn’t have to be black-top,” the Ward 1 Councillor said.

One idea Stewart has floated in the past is a gravel parking lot on public land immediately east of the existing MCC lot towards Rice Road. The parking study suggested that area could be developed into a paved lot with up to 200 more spaces — which is above their own estimate of the 125-170 extra spaces the community centre currently needs.

Hildebrandt and Stewart also took issue with the idea that private and other public lots offset parking demand.

“We as a Town cannot reasonably expect people coming to a Town event and using Town facilities to use parking that’s owned and provided by other churches and schools and businesses,” Stewart said. “For example, there’s an event at the community centre this weekend, and one of the people involved with organizing the event suggested if it was tight for parking, to park over at Food Basics. Now that’s totally unacceptable, because when you look at the rate the stores in that plaza pay to be there, we should not be encouraging people to clog up their parking.”

However, the Voice has learned that the organizers of the event which Stewart was referring to, the Kinsmen Home Show, had asked Food Basics if they could use their rear parking lot for overflow cars, and were granted the request. An agreement was similarly reached with Wellspring to use their lot.

A Town employee familiar with the discussion between the parties, speaking on condition they not be named as they were not authorized to speak to the media, later said, “It’s really irresponsible to talk that trash. It insults the Home Show volunteers and the recipients of the gate, Pelham Cares and Wellspring. Why wouldn’t Wellspring let them use their lot if they are getting a donation?”

Ward 2 Councillor Ron Kore asked if the grass median on Summersides Boulevard east of Station Street could be removed to make way for parking.

Director of Community Planning and Development Barb Wiens said that had not been considered, stating that Summersides was designed as a “ceremonial roadway” with a centre median.

Ultimately, Haun and Stewart’s concerns centred on an expected increase in residential parking, which the study did not prioritize.

“Two parking spaces per residential unit is not enough,” Stewart said.

Haun said any overflow will end up on streets — which on most Pelham roadways is presently completely legal.

“This is why it’s kind of troubling for me,” Haun said.

While Pelham mandated one off-street parking spot per secondary dwelling unit when it passed the bylaw to permit SDUs last year, an issue not mentioned by members of council is the lack of urbanized streets in older parts of the town — which feature often narrower roadways, without sidewalks, storm drains, or marked parking areas.

Council voted to receive the report. In a somewhat ironic reminder of the cruel complexities of modern life, they later unanimously approved extending a program that allows local restaurants to remove up to six parking spots to accommodate pop-up patios as a result of the ongoing pandemic.

Stewart asked Director of Recreation, Culture and Wellness Vickie vanRavenswaay if the Town would continue loaning the businesses municipal picnic tables for the venture. VanRavenswaay confirmed it would.

Subdivision confusion

Haun and Hildebrandt both reported concerns from Ward 3 constituents over the Forest Park subdivision draft plan. Despite already having had a public meeting regarding matter, they asserted that confusion remains among residents. Forest Park is the subdivision planned east of the Steve Bauer Trail, south of Port Robinson Road. This is a separate project from the planned Kunda Park extension, which has been a bone of contention with nearby residents and led to a bylaw banning future road crossings over the Bauer Trail.

Councillors debated the idea of another public meeting or communications materials to assuage lingering concerns over stormwater management.

“Not everyone watches these meetings, not everyone reads the agendas,” Haun said. “There has to be another way to speak with these folks, and that’s all I’m asking for.”

Junkin asked Haun for any suggestions she had beyond another public meeting.

“Maybe it’s simply putting a summary together, a Q&A,” Haun said. “What I’m asking for is not a tall order. We have a communications specialist on payroll. Perhaps that person can also assist us in that regard.”

Staff then reminded members that what they were discussing was only a draft document, and not a final plan.

“This is draft plan. It’s early on,” Cribbs said. “If you order a public meeting … essentially the same material will be brought back … you have the right to ask the questions, but you don’t have the right to an answer now. That’s how the system works. When a draft plan is approved, then money will be spent on those subsequent studies.”

Cribbs added that further delays would likely push the matter past the October election. Ultimately, the CAO recommended another public meeting and even suggested it could be broken into two parts — one a public forum, one a council-involved meeting.

The proposal passed.

Noise exemption request deferred

Council deferred a request by a College Street resident for a noise bylaw exemption for a six-hour window on May 22. Apparently, a birthday party is planned featuring a live band.

Ward 2’s John Wink wanted assurances that the resident had spoken to all neighbours about the plan before approving the exemption.

Kore asked what kind of band would be performing. That information was not available.

The matter will be brought back April 19.

SIDEBAR | A parking solution fumbled

The parking study brought to council cited Ridgeville as a priority that needs immediate addressing, stating that parking at the corner of Canboro and Effingham was currently running at 160 percent capacity. Consultants RV Anderson recommended pursuing a previous Town idea to convert the current water station on the southeast corner into a parking lot, a proposal that first came before council in June 2019. Public Works Director Jason Marr said the existing water pump could be moved nearby, but that demolishing the Town-owned shed on the property would require that storage facility to be relocated elsewhere. The study also recommended pedestrian crosswalks at Canboro and Effingham, and further urbanization westward on Canboro for additional street parking. In February, with no public discussion, council quietly opted to drop funding for Ridgeville parking expansion from the Town’s 2022 operating budget.