By Mike Williscraft
A heritage conservation district (HCD) study proposed for Grimsby’s Main Street East was deferred with little discussion at Monday’s council meeting.
A report with input from planning staff and legal will come back to council on Dec. 21.
The proposal – recommended by Grimsby’s Heritage Advisory Committee and supported at the Town’s Committee of The Whole meeting on Oct. 12 – was the subject of a flyer circulated by Coun. Kevin Ritchie last week which contained a host of inaccurate and misleading statements, according to Grimsby resident Adam Mottershead and a host of other residents as well as many members of town council.
Regardless, Monday’s meeting included several delegations which picked up on some of the inaccuracies stated in the flyer, mainly a touted lack of transparency and communication to the public about the proposed study and the suggestion “all” businesses and homes in the area
would be included in the study process.
It was clear from the delegations’ submissions that there was a clear disconnect between what they believed and how the study process actually progresses – mainly that the study area and the actual properties which become part of the final study area are established after the proposal is approved, a consultant hired, public input sessions are hosted and details are reviewed with all stakeholders throughout.
Dr. Suzi Peters, co-owner of Grimsby Animal Hospital noted she was “shocked to hear about this new proposed by-law just last week.”
Peters also noted what she said appeared to be a lack of transparency to the process.
Noting there has been a long-planned renovation to their Main Street East building, Peters said she had been in regular contact with planning staff and asked them to keep her up to date on “any limitations we may expect”.
“However, after watching the virtual Committee of the Whole meeting on October 19, I am now realizing that this may not actually be the fault of the staff, since they did not seem to have been informed about this unfolding proposal either.”
In her note to council, Catherine Gonnsen noted the proposed heritage study has been in the works for many years, however, and should not have been a surprise to anyone – especially planning staff.
“There is a five-year history to this issue within the Town of Grimsby and now it has come to our attention that forces outside of our Town are actually being dragged into this in an unfortunate manner,” noted Gonnsen, a home owner in the proposed study area.
“Flyers have been distributed stirring up social unrest in matters that the citizens of the Town have been widely consulted on, and actually came to Town Hall and expressed their concerns about last January.”
“This is not a commitment to an HCD, only to a study, and it is long overdue. People who are frightened about this are being misinformed about what it means.”
Despite the proposed study’s long history of consideration, debate during the 2020 budget process and multiple discussions at council this fall, last Tuesday Ritchie supported the notion that consideration of the report lacked public input. He reiterated this when asked why he would circulate a misleading and incorrect document.
Pamela Evans noted in a written submission she was also concerned about the one-year interim control bylaw (ICBL) aspect of the study, which would suspend new development and major structural changes to homes which are ultimately included in the process for one year while the study process is executed.
Evans also noted concerns regarding possible study and related appeal costs as well a perceived lack of staff public input.
In a letter to council to clarify the many inaccuracies in the flyer and in submissions council had received prior to Monday’s meeting, Adam Mottershead detailed for council all the inaccuracies which have been floated.
Regarding a perceived lack of public engagement, Mottershead noted, “Statutory obligations regarding public notice for an HCD study only exist after an ICBL for the study area is passed. The legislation does not preclude prior public notification, but a review of completed HCD studies suggest such actions would be highly unusual.”
The same comment refutes comments received by council from lobbyist Chuck McShane, executive officer of the Niagara Home Builders Association.
McShane claimed, “One of the most essential aspects of the Provincial planning process that must always be respected is the requirement for public consultation.”
He also asked why some commercial buildings were included in the study area, failing to understand Mottershead noted, the study area would not be formally set until after the process had been started and full public input had been obtained, adding to say no consultation had been done and boundaries were already set would be “premature.”
As well, he cited many instances in 2020 alone when the Main Street East study was discussed at council, including a delegation back on Jan. 21 when planning staff were in attendance and commented on the proposal.
Coun. Dorothy Bothwell suggested the report package on the study be referred back to Town planning staff and for legal input – something she offered at the last meeting of council.
Bothwell noted previously shaping of the study bylaw is welcome particularly with the ICBL, what properties can included and when it is activated.