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UPDATE: Councillors speak out about Parliament Oak recommendations

There is concern among some councillors over staff recommendations for the Parliament Oak property, and residents are worried about the number of people who could be crowding into the town hall to speak.

A staff report on a controversial luxury hotel and conference centre proposed for the Old Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake could result in some heated discussion at Tuesday’s committee-of-the-whole planning meeting. 

Word about the report has already spread to residents strongly opposed to the proposal for the Parliament Oak School property on King Street, and at least two councillors have said they are opposed to staff recommendations that would allow the development to move forward.

Staff are recommending zoning bylaw and Official Plan amendments be approved for the former school site, now owned by developer Benny Marotta and his company Two Sisters Resorts. If councillors agree, the development would be 19 metres tall, include 129 rooms, a restaurant and patio, spa and personal services and banquet-conference facilities, as well as associated retail uses, reads the report up for consideration Tuesday evening..   

Individuals wishing to appear as delegates at the meeting were told to register by noon on Monday. Old Town resident Judy McLeod sent out a blast email encouraging those opposed to sign up as delegates. She was concerned that the report about such an important site wasn't made public until last Thursday. “It is one of the last remaining institutional community spaces left in town and while the school is an eyesore a massive over 60-foot hotel will forever change the face of a lovely heritage neighbourhood of single family homes in Old Town,” she said. “Not to mention creating chaos on the narrow exclusively residential streets surrounding it. To even suggest that this project meets all the criteria mentioned in the staff analysis is ridiculous.” 

The Official Plan amendment proposes to redesignate the property from its open space and community facilities designation to general commercial use.  

There are also site-specific exemptions related to permitted main and secondary uses, the orientation and siting of the hotel, location of access driveways and loading areas, screening and landscaping, and the requirement for a cultural heritage impact assessment, the report says.   

The zoning bylaw amendment proposes to rezone the property from institutional to general commercial, also with site-specific provisions related to the permitted uses, maximum area of the outdoor patio restaurant, lot frontage, lot area, lot coverage, landscaped open space, setbacks, building height, prohibition of amplified noise, parking and loading spaces, and encroachments.  

In addition to the school building, slated to be demolished, the site currently includes two historical markers, several mature trees, and a chain-link fence along the perimeter. The town’s municipal heritage committee has already weighed in on the project, recommending that the town enter into a temporary heritage easement agreement with the property owner for the salvage, storage, and reuse of identified heritage attributes and elements within any new development on the property.  

The heritage committee is also saying it should provide input regarding potential impacts on cultural heritage resources and any suggested mitigation measures.  

Council first received an application to demolish the building in February 2023.   

While the height of 19 metres exceeds the maximum building height of what is allowed if the zoning bylaw amendment is approved, the “proposed site-specific measures to restrict the location of the building will be sufficient to mitigate impacts caused by the increased height,” the staff report said, and that “increasing setbacks can assist with mitigating potential impacts on lower profile buildings from newer buildings with greater height.” 

Speaking with with The Local Monday, McLeod said she is unsure how many people have followed through with registering to speak, but added about 25 did respond to her email blast, which was sent out to more than 120 people.  She said it’s concerning that there appears to be no provision in place for residents to submit written comments if they are unable to make it to the town hall Tuesday night. 

“I feel terrible for anyone who lives around that block,” she said.  

Another contentious issue, a massive residential development of four buildings holding a total of more than 800 units, and one building possibly being 25 storeys tall at the White Oaks site in Glendale, is on the same agenda.  

McLeod said the Glendale project is also facing a lot of opposition from the public and will likely eat up a lot of time in the meeting. “The whole process is frustrating,” she said, adding she believes there “isn’t a strong desire” on the town’s end to move meetings such as Tuesday’s, expected to draw a lot of people to town hall, to another venue such as the community centre.

Coun. Sandra O’Connor told the Local she has “grave concerns about this project. I think it’s incompatible with our Official Plan,” she explained, referring to a part of the municipality’s framework that says the town should prevent intrusion of commercial uses in residential areas. “This is not doing that,” she said, noting that the Official Plan also states the town should protect current commercial areas fom future proposals. “This doesn’t do that either.”  

O’Connor said she is concerned about the amount of traffic the hotel will generate, including delivery vehicles servicing the restaurant, which has plans for 1,700 seats for dining. She is also afraid that Veteran’s Memorial Park across the street will become a parking lot for the hotel and not park users, and noted she will be voting against the project unless there are “last-minute” revisions to the plan that change her mind.  

Coun. Gary Burroughs is not in favour of the development and said he hopes several residents will have their voices heard Tuesday night.  But he isn’t certain that people opposed to the development will be satisfied by the end of the meeting. “I would love it if we turned it down, but I think it will be approved,” Burroughs told The Local Monday.  

One of the councillor’s concerns is that staff is recommending approval of the building’s height, which exceeds what would be permitted if the zoning bylaw amendment is granted.  “I think it’s been rushed through,” he said.  

Burroughs also finds a proposed fourth-floor patio problematic in a residential neighbourhood. “It will be overlooking the whole town and the noise for residents will be outrageous,” said Burroughs, who also believes people who have planning backgrounds that are opposed to the development should have their concerns taken more seriously by the municipality.  

“It doesn’t appear the town is listening to many of the complaints,” he said.

The meeting at the Virgil town hall Tuesday, June 11, begins at 6 p.m. 


About the Author: Kris Dube, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Kris Dube covers civic issues in Niagara-on-the-Lake under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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