After five years of working with the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake as the head of its planning department and all it entails, Craig Larmour is retiring.
He’s only 54, but he says he’s ready for a break, although he doesn’t rule out returning to work as a consultant at some point in the future.
Not immediately, however and not in NOTL.
Larmour says he’s loved his time in the municipal sector over the last 32 years, especially the urban/rural areas where he has worked, including the towns of Lincoln, West Lincoln and Pelham, and the Region of Haldimand-Norfolk.
When he made the decision to take the job in NOTL, he says, he knew something about the planning issues, having worked in Niagara for years, and had a personal fondness for the town as a visitor.
He and his wife were married at the Queen’s Landing Hotel, and for the last 20 years, have made a tradition of spending Christmas Eve in town, including a horse and carriage ride and a visit to the Pillar and Post.
When he accepted the position in NOTL, he wasn’t thinking about retirement in five years, he says, or that this job would be his last — that wasn’t on his radar at all.
However, he has come to see this as a good time to go, especially with an election in the future.
“Elections are a difficult time,” he says. “Introducing a new council to the planning world is a challenge in itself, and even more so when you have a whole new council.” That was the case with a few exceptions in 2018, he says, with first-time councillors having to “find their way” in many different areas, not just planning.
This council, however, once they did find their way, has worked well together, despite what the public may have seen in live-streamed meetings.
“Much has been made of the animosity of council,” from what was seen week-to-week at their virtual meetings, says Larmour.
It might have appeared there was a lot of animosity between council and staff, but that wasn’t the case behind the scenes, he explained.
Council has a specific job to do, responsive to their constituents, and working with the opinions they hear when they bump into people on the street, and also having to keep their eye on re-election, whereas the planning staff have to work with policies set by upper levels of government.
That can create some conflict, which Larmour describes as “jousting and foisting,” citing as examples the issues that arose over the Queenston Mile winery, which often saw councillors at odds with recommendations by staff, and current discussions over intensification. “But it’s not as significant as it appears to be,” he says.
And although there can be some stress and tension during a council or committee meeting, he puts it behind him once it’s over. “I don’t take it personally. I respect council and the position they’re in. Council has treated me fairly, and so have the residents.”
Although he thought he had an idea of what to expect when he took the job in NOTL, the one thing that took him by surprise, and that he really appreciated, was the level of discussion over planning issues.
NOTL, he says, has a very engaged and educated public. In other municipalities there might be a group of people who are interested in and objecting to a particular project, but the level of engagement here is much higher than in other areas. He suggests that can be overwhelming for councillors, who may have had particular interests when they were voted in, but had a lot to learn about other issues “which were filled with the prospect of lots of conflict.”
He points to ongoing planning issues regarding the Parliament Oak development, which carries with it “lots of public angst and emotion. It’s going to be difficult for the community, for council and staff, and it looks like it’s going to be around for awhile.”
Larmour laughs when asked about choosing to leave now, in the midst of such a controversial planning project, but says he made his decision to leave at the end of the year some time ago. He speaks of regretting leaving staff members at a difficult time, when they are pushed to the limit, and discussions are made more challenging with virtual meetings, rather than sitting around a table talking with people face-to-face.
He repeats he’s ready for a break, for a rest, to spend more time on volunteer projects and with his family, and allowing some freedom to travel, when that starts to look a little easier.
And although he will return to work at some point, “If I come back representing a developer in NOTL, just hit me over the head with a two-by-four,” he jokes. He’s watched other planners return to town as consultants, “and it’s a thankless task,” he says.
On a more serious note, Larmour is open about having being fired from his job with the town of Pelham, over a disagreement about process — he suggested one direction, and council chose another. Although he doesn’t go into details, he says the issue to him was a matter of principle, and that he felt he couldn’t compromise his integrity. He refers to the media release sent out by the town, announcing his retirement, with gratitude — he especially appreciated the comment by Lord Mayor Betty Disero, who said, “since his start with Niagara-on-the-Lake in 2016, Craig has been a pillar of wisdom, leadership and integrity for the town.”
This time, he says emphatically, the decision to leave was all his.
“It’s absolutely my decision, totally. “
His greatest memories of NOTL will be the relationships with the politicians and staff, he says. Some have become personal friends, and he feels badly leaving with the difficult development issues before them, and the sheer number of applications.
He is also leaving bylaw enforcement, another aspect of his job, but those officers have come together as a team “and they’ve been knocking it out of the park.”
His former department will also continue to deal with the COVID regulations and restrictions, as they have from the start of the pandemic, and again, he says, “it can’t be overstated” how great the staff have been.
“I definitely will miss working with them.”
Larmour’s last day with the town was Friday, although he had some holidays to take leading up to that date.
“A robust recruitment process is underway to fill this important role, and the town is working to facilitate a smooth transition for Craig’s successor. Rick Wilson, manager of planning, will take on the role of acting director of community and development services until the position is filled,” the town announcement says.