After all the work that has gone into protecting the Dock Area in recent decades, residents of that neighbourhood don’t like what they see in the draft official plan now going through the public consultation process.
Paul Shepherd spoke for many of his neighbours at Monday’s meeting to discuss the long-awaited document, expected to be approved by council in April. His concern is that an outdated secondary plan enshrined in the document does not contain the protections he and others expected for their neighbourhood, he said, calling it meaningless, inconsistent and “even improper.”
The meeting at the community centre drew about 100 people, with 20 presentations focusing mainly on agricultural protection, the wine industry, St. Davids and the Dock Area.
The structure of the official plan includes secondary plans for St. Davids, Queenston, Glendale and the Old Town — it was noted by Shepherd and others there is none for Virgil. Although the main document is being updated from its last-approved 1994 version, the secondary plans are not, and they are also badly in need of being reviewed and amended to reflect a more relevant reflection of residents’ choices for their communities.
The intention is to get the official plan passed, residents were told, and at some point in the future the secondary plans will be reviewed, but several speakers, including Shepherd, expressed their discomfort with that process.
While the draft official plan update was completed last December, the secondary plan for the Dock Area dates back to 2014, said Shepherd, and completely ignores a master plan that has been completed since then, following extensive consultation with residents.
The secondary plan allows the development of parkland and the beach by the railroad right-of-way, he said, changes the road and traffic patterns, and despite the extreme situation of two years ago, ignores necessary flood protection and storm drainage.
Although Shepherd is a resident of the Dock Area with a waterfront property, he also took council to task for allowing development through the main corridor of Virgil, which has no secondary plan.
There was a draft design guideline document drawn up in 2015 to determine the streetscape and scope of development along the Niagara Stone Road corridor, but it was never approved by council.
What is happening along that corridor is very different from what locals envisioned during the public consultations for a plan that went nowhere.
Shepherd pointed out the height of two massive, “big box development” stores as the direction along the main street through the urban area, when what the people of Virgil would rather see is a much smaller scale of development.
The tall buildings under construction don’t require the height they’ve been allowed for the business they will be conducting, he said. “How high can you stack those coffee cups?,” he asked, referring to the Starbucks going up beside the little plaza where Pet Valu is located, overshadowing other businesses. “All this space is for something that could be done in a single-storey structure.”
Big box development is likely to continue as gaps are filled in along the corridor, and small businesses close and are replaced, he warned.
“This is absolutely destroying the streetscape of Virgil.”
Shepherd closed with another warning: this one about the planning process as outlined in the official plan. Sometimes it says council “should” call for public consultation, sometimes it says “may” call for public consultation.
In all cases, those words should be changed to “shall. Public consultation is most important,” he finished.C