Pelham Town Council voted in favour of changing a zoning bylaw to accommodate a controversial proposed four-storey Pancake Lane condominium complex May 3, but the decision didn’t come without theatrics.

The basic zoning request appeared on its way to being defeated by the political bloc of Councillors Lisa Haun, Bob Hildebrandt, Ron Kore and Marianne Stewart before appeals by Mayor Marvin Junkin, CAO David Cribbs and Councillors Wayne Olson and John Wink seemed to sway the vote. Only Kore and Hildebrandt voted against the request, with Kore criticizing the proliferation of multi-dwelling housing units in Pelham, and on two occasions making remarks using the cryptic term “low housing.”

“What scares me the most is we have adjacent land to the west and if we approve it, I can see a twin building right beside it and also across the street, the potential for another apartment building,” Kore said, suggesting that the Glad Tidings Church of God — which sold a parcel of their own land to the developer of the proposed project — could disappear in favour of housing, as well as the commercial building across Pancake to the south.

“Is this a low housing project, is it a rental or is it condos?” Kore asked Director of Community Planning and Development Barb Wiens.

The director replied that the project has been submitted as 40 one- and two-bedroom condo units.

“It won’t be low housing?” Kore asked again, potentially referring to low-income housing, none of which currently exists in Pelham.

Wiens replied that she did not know what the price point of the housing development would be. She also added, however, that because the land is currently zoned as institutional, it already allows for four-storey buildings, and that the developer was simply seeking to have the land zoned residential.

Wink disagreed with his fellow Ward 2 Councillor Kore’s assertions, pointing out that apartment buildings already exist directly to the east and southeast of the site, at the intersection of Pancake and Pelham Street. He also raised the spectre of having a council decision likely overturned by the Ontario Land Tribunal — which happened after a majority of this council, led by Kore, shot down a proposed townhouse development less than a kilometre away.

“If we don’t approve this, it’s going to go to [appeal],” said Wink, “and we’re going to be in the same situation we were at the other end of Pancake—we turn this down, we’re going to lose it and it’s going to cost this town thousands of dollars again.”

Wink acknowledged that while the Ontario Land Tribunal is controversial across the province and that many municipalities have pleaded to overrule or abolish the body, it’s not something likely to happen soon alongside provincial demands for higher-density housing.

“At this point in time we don’t have a leg to stand on,” Wink said.

Haun, however, took issue with the developer’s preliminary parking plan and suggested that this the leg to stand on. The Ward 3 councillor objected to the plan’s reduction of overall parking to 1.4 spaces per unit from a Town-recommended 1.5.

“Other developers have had to meet our standard, now this one gets let off the hook?” she asked aloud.

Wiens said that several developers have had variances allowed for less parking, citing 1518 and 1440 Pelham Street, the latter of which came via the Committee of Adjustment.

“By the committee,” Haun dismissively replied.

“One was a zoning amendment by this council,” Wiens responded.

Haun said she was uncomfortable approving the zoning request until revisions to the Town’s drawn-out parking study came back.

“I thought this was heading back to us sooner than later,” she said.

The Mayor pointed out that modern environmental sensibilities dictate that, “the number of parking spots do not increase with the number of cars on the road. That [is the case] across North America.”

The Mayor added that because Pancake Lane is defined a collector road, higher density is encouraged.

“This is exactly was planning is about, it’s called infilling.”

CAO David Cribbs summarized the debate by again reminding members that this was simply a zoning request, and that scrutiny of the developer’s plans would come later. He warned them that defeating it could not only send the matter to the Ontario Land Tribunal, but also cede any say the Town had later in the development.

“It just seems unfortunate we would give up our control at this early stage,” the CAO said. “You need to approve this and carry on to the next part of the conversation —you need to look at the battle and the war.”

With that, the zoning request passed 5-2.

More parking parley

Wink successfully moved a motion to have staff report back to council next month on moving ahead with the idea of using Town-owned vacant lands — as well as the possible apportionment of lands for sale — adjacent to the community centre for parking expansion, with a possible eye on earmarking 2023 budget money for the project. Stewart vocally supported, noting the proposals to move the library to the MCC and talk of a possible “town square” in the area will only make the parking shortage more acute.

Olson asked that cost-analysis of the long-running Ridgeville parking issue be included in the report. Both areas were cited as the primary concerns in the much-maligned yet incomplete parking study.

“That should be in the consideration of this,” the Ward 1 councillor said. “That’s what I call low-hanging fruit.”

However, Wink said that Ridgeville should become a separate motion.

“I think we’re talking about two different things and I really don’t want to muddy the waters,” he said.

Lame Duck passes

Council passed its lame duck provision, delayed from the last meeting. The bylaw is standard in Ontario municipalities and gives signing power, if necessary, to the CAO for expenses during the “Lame Duck” period between nomination day and election day during municipal election years. Wink, who at the last meeting suggested putting a cap of signing power at $100,000, said he made a mistake and that he didn’t mean to hold up standard legislation.

“I apologize for that, I obviously heard wrong. Other municipalities don’t have [such caps],” Wink said, adding that CAO Crobbs has been demonstrably, “honest, and his integrity is without question as far as I’m concerned.”

Junkin joked that, “there is always the resort of an ankle bracelet if we decide we have to go that way.”

The bylaw passed unanimously.

EV stations likely coming soon

Council unanimously accepted a staff report on options for electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in Pelham, with Wink adding a successful motion investigating the financial impacts of the various options, with an aim for potential inclusion in the 2023 budget.

“We need to go on a carbon diet and really fast,” Olson said. “This is going to be a very rapid change that’s going to take place. The best thing we can do is get it into our building codes.”

The federal government currently has an aggressive plan to mandate that new vehicle sales must be zero-emission by 2035.

Odds and ends

▶︎ Council unanimously accepted a staff report on proposed nomenclature and signage for the different portions of the Steve Bauer Trail. Concept drawings include maps and directions.

▶︎ Niagara had zero Covid-19 ICU-on-ventilator admissions in the 28 days ending May 3. As of that date, Pelham reported 147 active cases of Covid, a number likely significantly lower than reality. Nationally, more than 39,000 deaths had been attributed to the coronavirus over the last two years, with 60.3 percent of those deaths among unvaccinated persons.