PETER CONRADI/Bullet News
The Niagara Region will write to the Province to reaffirm its support for construction of a residential development just outside Fort Erie’s urban boundary north of the Bridgeburg Station neighbourhood.
Niagara Falls Reg. Coun. Bart Maves called it “reprenhensible” that Queen’s Park has launched a court appeal to stop the project.
“The Province has taken this strange step … to thwart economic development in Fort Erie,” Maves said. “That development was finally a little bright light for fort Erie which has been devastated economically in the past few years.”
Earlier this month, the Ontario Municipal Board rejected an appeal by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, which sought to overturn a decision by the town and Regional Niagara supporting zoning and official plan changes to allow the development.
Not happy with the OMB decision, the province has given notice to the developer and the municipalities that it intends to go to court seeking leave to appeal the finding on the grounds that the OMB erred in its interpretation of provincial planning regulations.
Commissioner of Integrated Community Planning Patrick Robson said the Province is entitled to take this step, but he told Maves that a letter would be sent reinforcing the Region’s support for the proposal.
The fact the province is now, in essence, suing two lower levels of government and the taxpaying proponents – Bill Miller, 1049506 Ontario Inc. and Bridgeburg Holdings Limited – has confounded and angered Fort Erie Mayor Doug Martin.
“If the province doesn’t respect a decision of the Ontario Municipal Board, then why do they have it?” Martin said during an interview with Bullet News.
After the town received the notice of motion seeking leave to appeal the OMB decision at the divisional court level, Martin wrote directly to Ontario’s new Minister of Municipal Affairs Linda Jeffrey. Martin is asking the minister to intervene to stop the court action, thus allowing the original decision to stand and the development to move forward.
“This project was approved unanimously at both the Town of Fort Erie and at the Regional Municipality of Niagara level as we both recognize the importance and value of the project,” Martin wrote in his letter to Jeffrey, a copy of which was obtained by Bullet News. “I must say that we were originally disappointed that the Ministry would appeal our joint local/regional approval to the 0MB and are even further disappointed now that the Ministry has appealed the decision of the OMB as well.”
Martin said the proposed development is an important part of the town’s plan to revitalize the Bridgeburg Station neighbourhood. While its location is slightly outside the current urban boundary, the site is in close proximity to the regional waste water treatment plant and other municipal services. In this way, the development makes good planning sense, Martin said.
The dispute over the Miller property is the latest in a long string of disputes between the town and the province Martin has had to contend with since becoming mayor in 2006. Those disputes include the loss of local hospital services, the closure of the Slots at Fort Erie Race Track, cancellation of the slots funding for the Fort Erie Race Track and the town, closure of the provincial tourist information centre in Fort Erie and a decision by the province that forced the Niagara Parks Commission to put the brakes on a plan public-private redevelopment of the NPC marina worth more than $100 million.
The town has also argued for years that provincial policy changes with respect to wetland mapping have disproportionately affected Fort Erie, placing restrictions on hundreds of acres of land which can no longer be developed.
Niagara Falls Liberal MPP Kim Craitor, the government member who represents Fort Erie at Queen’s Park, said he has received a copy of Martin’s letter to the minister. He wants a briefing from ministry staff on the issues involved to understand the justification for the province taking legal action to overturn the OMB decision.
“I’m going to follow this up myself,” Craitor told Bullet News. “On the surface, it really seems illogical. It seems like the appropriate process was followed and the ministry lost. To me, that should close the books on it.”
- with files from John Robbins