Two important issues facing the Town were raised at council Monday, with an admittedly frustrated Lord Mayor Betty Disero explaining the significance of their connection.
Having an Official Plan approved has been a topic of discussion since last October’s election and a focus of Town staff and councillors, with regular updates as the current draft comes closer to completion.
But a request from Niagara Region that Niagara-on-the-Lake take “a pause” in its Official Plan review “until a more appropriate time” brought a chilling “sermon” from Disero, as she referred to a warning about looming amalgamation.
She said she’s heard some chatter about a provincial decision regarding amalgamation being announced in eight to 10 weeks, possibly at the annual Association of Ontario Municipalities conference in August.
If the announcement is to amalgamate Niagara, whether the Province decides on one or four municipalities, NOTL will go to the table to negotiate without an Official Plan.
“I need you to hear the frustration in my voice,” Disero told councillors, referring to five years of discussions about the current review of the Official Plan, which is not yet completed. “I have talked to anybody and everybody who would listen about the importance of having an Official Plan, and getting an Official Plan done.”
She said rather than taking a pause, the Town should be working to get it completed as soon as possible, because at the moment, they have a 1994 approved Official Plan and several draft updates. What that means, she said, is “we have nothing” should the premier make his announcement at AMO.”
If amalgamation is not to be the case, “I apologize for taking up your time tonight.”
The Region and others say “don’t worry about it, take a pause, wait for us,” she said. “This town has been waiting since 2002. We’re going to get to a point where we’ll be at the table with nothing,” she repeated, determined to make her point of the gravity of the situation as she sees it.
Amalgamation will be a provincial decision, she said, “not our decision. The most important thing this council can do is to be ready. So when people say wait, take a pause, they’re not looking after our best interest.”
She said the Town needs to take the sixth draft that had been completed and spend whatever time necessary to get it ready for approval. “It will never be perfect. If it’s not perfect you amend it. I think we need to endorse something and send it to the Region to say this is what we want.”
An approved Official Plan allows the Town to look after its priorities and get them front and centre every opportunity, she said. Heritage, wineries, and agriculture are the Town’s priorities, and that means looking after them to ensure they have the tools to be prosperous.
“If there is an amalgamation everyone who works in this building has dedicated their careers to this town,” she said, sharing another of her amalgamation fears. NOTL employees are not part of a union. “We have to make sure they’re treated fairly and equitably, like the regional employees who are part of a union,” Disero added. “And we need to endorse an Official Plan for this town. This is my sermon from the mount,” she concluded.
Council voted to ask director of planning Craig Larmour to arrange a special meeting with the consultants now working on the Official Plan, to allow a speedy conclusion with an endorsed OP to be sent to the Region.
“There shouldn’t be any illusions,” said Coun. Stuart McCormack, once that action was approved, reminding councillors that while it’s important to have the Official Plan completed, the Province has the final say, and “can simply tear it up.”
Disero agreed. “They have the final say on everything.”