For Pelham residents concerned about the price of housing—as well as their property tax bills—last Monday’s Town Council meeting should be ringing alarm bells. As hard as it may be to believe, the Gang of Four (Lite, in this case), sank to another low in incompetent governance. Whether this arguable malfeasance results in legal action and a hefty damages award (paid by the taxpayer, one way or another), we now wait to see.

Long story short, last month council approved a new draft plan of subdivision in East Fonthill, allowing the building of 72 homes. Voting against were Councillors Lisa Haun, Bob Hildebrandt, and Ron Kore—the Gang of Four Lite. Councillor Marianne Stewart, for a change, parted ways with her usual confederates and voted for, along with Councillors John Wink, Wayne Olson, and Mayor Junkin.

Last week, however, Stewart went MIA. So when what should have been a routine final zoning approval came to a vote, Councillor Haun led the way in taking a fire axe to the hull and sinking the HMS Summersides Village, abruptly ending its two-year trip through the vetting canal.

Why? Excellent question.

We put that to Haun, who did not respond to our request for a credible answer.

On the surface, her rationale is implausibly bizarre. At council, Haun said she was concerned that a different would-be developer hadn’t been given the opportunity to object to a roadway. But there are a couple of kickers. First, the road in question is part of the East Fonthill Secondary Plan, which has been out in the world for going on a decade. Second—and hold on for this one— this would-be developer does not even own land in East Fonthill.

Over this application’s two-year vetting period, all parties had ample opportunity to make their views known to Town planners and Town Council. You snooze, you lose—except, apparently, if you can influence one or three malleable elected officials to throw a wrench in the works at the eleventh hour.

So now the Town finds itself in the remarkable position of having already approved 72 lots, but withholding the zoning approval to build houses on those lots. Haun, Kore and Hildebrandt simply refused to fulfill their duties. The frustration and disappointment were apparent on the faces of several staff and the remainder of council, given that they had every reason to expect the basic mechanics of government to work routinely.

As elsewhere in Ontario, our council has a rule in its Code of Conduct requiring respect for previous council votes. Last week’s pivot violated the code, and could well lead to additional damages being awarded on the basis of bad faith, should the first developer seek redress at the Ontario Land Tribunal (formerly LPAT).

The Voice has learned that both in-house and external legal counsel advised councillors late last week that the Town has zero chance of prevailing in such a case. There is literally no reasonable defense.

The Voice has learned that both in-house and external legal counsel advised councillors late last week that the Town has zero chance of prevailing in such a case. There is literally no reasonable defense. The only unknown is the amount of assessed damages on the thwarted $100 million dollar-plus project. This type of stupidity is not free.

Approval of the subdivision was arrived at after two years of plans, studies, public meetings, input from Regional Planning staff and from the NPCA. To torpedo it ostensibly because another, would-be developer objects to it, after the fact, and after the conclusion of two years of work, is both unfair and absurd.

If this second developer had a leg to stand on, it could appeal the Town’s approval to the Ontario Land Tribunal. The reason it doesn’t—again, we can’t stress this enough— is that it hasn’t actually purchased the neighbouring lands, and so has no legal skin in the game. Why Councillors Haun, Hildebrandt and Kore are suddenly concerned with the alleged well-being of a wannabe developer who has yet to invest in the community is a question that deserves serious and close scrutiny.

Housing in Pelham is a complicated issue. Delaying the construction of more of it on what is vacant land, surrounded by other new houses, accomplishes nothing for anyone. At some point, the grownups need to take charge and acknowledge that Pelham, like every other Ontario municipality, is obligated to pursue a growth target established by upper levels of government (our target: population 29,000).

This is exactly the type of development that should be supported as a compromise: it causes no harm to existing residents, it moves the Town closer to its goal, and it presumably helps with affordability, in that there would be an increase in housing supply.

Over these past three-and-a-half years, the Gang of Four’s repeated missteps over various housing issues have made a strong argument in favour of new councillors being required to take a Municipal Planning 101 course before being sworn in. Although, that said, this is what the Town’s professional planning staff are for. Once again we see the Gang’s ludicrous, paranoid rejection of such expertise.

During her 2018 campaign for council, candidate Lisa Haun told this newspaper that seniors shouldn’t have to leave town due to a lack of affordable housing.

“The Town has to work for all of the people, not just some of them,” she told our reporter.

We couldn’t agree more. Candidate Haun, could you text your wise thoughts to Councillor Haun?

Neither Pelham nor Niagara are going to become better, more just, or more supportive places without an adequate housing supply. Obstructionism, which in this case flies in the face of council’s Code of Conduct, helps no one. We now hope that by some procedural sleight of hand Haun’s axe damage can be patched to the point that we taxpayers aren’t left sunk with a hefty damages award to pay. The embarrassment, sadly, will remain permanent.