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May. 20, 2022 | Friday
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It's official: 25 years later, NOTL finally adopts a new official plan
NOTL town council has approved a new official plan for the municipality. The plan is essentially a blueprint for growth over the coming decades. (Brittany Carter/Niagara Now)

A new official plan for Niagara-on-the-Lake has finally been approved by town council.

After a marathon six-hour special council session Thursday evening at the community centre, council decided to move forward with the final draft of the official plan, a detailed land-use policy document that outlines the town's intentions for potential growth and development.

 “It’s the right thing to do,” said Lord Mayor Betty Disero.

The vote to adopt the plan was almost unanimous, with one opposing vote from Coun. Stuart McCormack, who said he didn’t think there was enough time to properly review the document before moving forward.

“There was a relatively short period of time, 24 hours, that we were given to review the document. In my previous career (as a lawyer) I was used to a situation in which we had clarity about crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s … I didn’t think we had enough time to do that,” McCormack said in an interview Friday.

Though Coun. Clare Cameron said she shared McCormack’s sentiments about the limited time with the revised draft, she agreed it was time to make a decision.

“I do feel it’s unfortunate that after all of that effort, there were only 24 hours and about 35 minutes for council and the public to see all of the documents we were discussing last night. That’s a concern but I’m feeling good that we were able to move passed that,” Cameron said.

Disero said there was more than enough time to go over the plan, the initial draft of which was completed in December 2018. The redlined version of final updates was given to council 24 hours prior to Thursday's meeting, but Disero said council was given the opportunity to ask as many questions as needed as they pored over each section of the 246-page document Thursday night.

Council and town staff have been working with planning consultants from Planscape to create and revise the official plan. The new plan, which requires approval by the Region of Niagara and the provincial government, will replace that last official plan – adopted 25 years ago.

“It’s easy to ask questions. The difficulty is making decisions. I’m very proud of council for making decisions. I’m thrilled that we were able to work together to finally get this done,” Disero said.

Cameron said her concerns were addressed while council meticulously combed through every section, adding that each councillor was given that opportunity.

“I’m feeling very good about the level of effort that’s been brought over the past eight months,” Cameron said. “To pull together comments from the public, all the public that’s made comments, I think there’s been a really good level of engagement,” she said.

Despite requests by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing in February to put some planning decisions on hold, Disero said she pushed for a conclusive decision in order to outline a clear view of where the town is headed through the official plan.

With the looming uncertainty of possible forced amalgamation by the provincial government, Disero said it is important to define the importance of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s unique traits, including agriculture and heritage.

“If we don’t do it, someone else will tell us who we are,” Disero said.

“We are going to be adopting this tonight … this is not going to be an exercise in getting another draft. We’re not having another special council meeting to deal with yet another draft … I want to finalize this, tonight,” she told councillors.

Disero said the concerns of the agricultural community were a “top priority” in the revision process.

“I know there’s been some concern expressed by the agricultural committee for some of the wording. The mapping that they wanted in, there’s going to be a motion today to include the mapping as they’ve requested it in the official plan,” she said.

A motion was passed to include ponds, swales and drainage ditches as working farm areas and part of the agricultural infrastructure.

“We wanted to really express through our official plan the importance of our agriculture, what they need to function, so that’s why we thought it was best to identify what the farming community in Niagara-on-the-Lake needs,” she said.

Disero said the region or province might see some of that infrastructure as a natural heritage but added that council doesn’t agree. “We believe this is agricultural infrastructure,” she said.

Cameron said there has been a "historic level of engagement" with the agricultural community.

"Whether or not the agricultural community and those representatives in particular will be happy today, I don't want to make that assumption because this issue in particular of irrigation mapping is such a complex issue," Cameron said. "A degree of happiness is going to be determined by what happens next," in regards to approvals from the region, she added.

“Now, it’ll go to the province, it’ll go to the region. They’ll make whatever amendments they want. We might go back to square one, but at least it will allow the agricultural community the opportunity to make their arguments to those levels of government,” she said.

One member of the agricultural advisory committee expressed concerns that some of the group’s issues weren’t being addressed, which could be “disastrous” for NOTL’s farming community.

Austin Kirby, past chair and a current member of the committee, said she requested council defer many items on the plan. She said she was worried about farm ponds being designated as wetlands, for example. Disero said she believed many of those issues were addressed in the adoption of farm infrastructure in appendix 1 of the new plan.

Council worked diligently with the agricultural committee to ensure farming infrastructure was outlined in detail, Disero said.

Cameron couldn’t speak to whether the agricultural community would be “happy” about the adoption of the plan, but she said council discussed each concern at length, and needed to come to a decision.

Disero said there was no more time to stall on decisions.

“But the time for deferring and waiting for other people to do things, we’re beyond that. We have to take a stand on our own behalf, and say, 'This is who we are, this is what we want to be,' so everyone knows,” she said.

Disero said she is “ecstatic” at the decision to adopt the official plan.

“I’m so proud of the residents who have been engaged for so many years, I’m so proud of the staff, I’m so proud of council,” she said.

Though she said she sees this as a success, the work doesn’t stop there.

“Nobody’s going to wait. As soon as it’s all polished up and on its way, I’ll be at the region’s door, knocking,” she said.