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Jan. 16, 2021 | Saturday
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Councillors concerned after losing planning appeal
Coun. Stuart McCormack chairs the committee of the whole meeting Monday. (Dariya Baiguzhiyeva/Niagara Now)

After the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal rejected a decision of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s committee of adjustment, some councillors are wondering how the town should defend its decisions at tribunal hearings.

Coun. Gary Burroughs raised a question Monday during a committee of the whole planning meeting on what could be done after the zoning application, which was refused by the town’s committee of adjustment, won approval at the tribunal hearing.

“I don’t know if I’m outraged or extremely disappointed,” Burroughs said. “We can’t appeal it any further but it’s wrong.”

His comments came in regard to the application submitted by the owner of 26 Delater St.

The applicant, Andrei Arvinte, proposed building a new house and a detached garage, and applied for variances from the town’s zoning bylaw related to height, lot coverage and setbacks for the proposed dwelling.

In a report prepared for the urban design committee review, town staff recommended reducing the height of the house to conform to the 8.5-metre maximum height as set out in the Dock Area Secondary Plan and that the roofline be reconfigured to be lower in profile, as required by the town’s urban design policies.

The applicant then submitted a revised application that conformed to the Dock Area plan and the zoning bylaw and had eight variances. Staff also recommended approving the requested variances.

At a public hearing on June 20, 2019, one resident spoke in favour and one person spoke in opposition of the application, according to the staff report.

The person who spoke against the application commented on its height, lot coverage, side yard setbacks, average finished grade, impacts to the streetscape and tree protection.

Despite staff’s recommendations, Arvinte’s application was refused by the town’s committee of adjustment as the application didn’t meet “the four Planning Act tests” for a minor variance, according to the committee’s minutes from the June 20 meeting.

The applicant then appealed to the tribunal and won.

A town report to council in October recommended retaining legal counsel and a registered professional planner to represent the town at the hearing to defend the committee of adjustment’s decision. Another recommendation was to send legal counsel to reach a settlement with the applicant.

Councillors voted down the first recommendation and directed legal counsel to settle the matter and present it to the tribunal.

Based on the planning evidence provided by the town’s senior planner Mark Iamarino during a hearing on Nov. 18, 2019, the tribunal approved Arvinte’s request as it was “minor in nature” and the infill development is compatible with the surrounding area in regard to the heritage character of the neighbourhood, according to the report.

“I think it’s a disaster what we’ve just gone through and what we’re going to go through on that particular property and how it’s going to affect that whole area,” Burroughs said Monday.

“When it’s brought forward, if a committee of adjustment happens to disagree with our planning staff, we need to know what that means if we’re going to go to a hearing like this.”

Coun. Clare Cameron said she shared Burroughs’ concerns and “a sense of dismay.”

“It’s unfortunate but hopefully this is a learning moment for all of us,” she said.

“Before we get to this stage of appeals and lawyers and where we’re really up against the wall, this to me is another example how an early dialogue with an applicant is so important.”

Town council could also look at hiring an outside planner who would defend council’s decisions at the hearings, Lord Mayor Betty Disero told councillors.