By Mike Williscraft
After one councillor flipped on his initial vote to support a Heritage Conservation District (HCD) Study for Main Street East which killed the initiative at Grimsby’s council meeting Dec. 21, a watered down report which does not adequately protect the community was unanimously approved, claim study proponents.
An HCD, which was requested by the community for Main Street East for several years, was recommended by the Grimsby Heritage Advisory Committee.
“We’re at a fork in the road. If this does not go, we open ourselves up in a way that the community does not want. After the vote tonight, I hope the community will remember this night when they vote in 2022,” said Coun. Lianne Vardy.
An HCD was recommended earlier at a Committee of The Whole meeting, but Coun. Dave Kadwell flipped on his initial support.
This led to a 4-4 tie with Councillors Kevin Ritchie, John Dunstall and Randy Vaine also voting against. Coun. Dave Sharpe declared a conflict of interest and did not vote. Councillors Reg Freake, Vardy and Bothwell voted in support of an HCD as well as Mayor Jeff Jordan.
Kadwell’s manoeuvre prompted a “well done, Kadwell” from Vardy, who followed that with an apology immediately after.
“I apologize to Coun. Kadwell. I thought my mic was off,” said Vardy.
The debate – as has been the pattern with this council – was often heated and confrontational. Many points of order were shouted out stifling much of the discussion.
The recommendations, proposed amendments, varied components and what was permissable prompted a “now I’m confused” from Kadwell.
Dunstall even brought up the defunct hospital corridor study set in motion by the previous council, of which he was a part. That study was an election issue in 2018 and killing that study was one of the first items this council did.
Proponents of the HCD said the eastern entranceway to town needs to have every bit of heightened heritage protection, especially in light of a seven-storey condo project already having been submitted to town staff for what was called “the DeVries lands.”
The DeVries lands include what is now Cole’s Florist and Cole’s Christmas Cottage, which was sold this fall.
A non-committal response came from director of planning Antonietta Minichillo when she was asked by councillors if it was true a five-storey parking garage has also been proposed for Main Street East.
There has been “no discussion that has any status” said Minichillo, adding that any proposal would still have to come to council for approval.
While council initially tasked staff with a tight frame of reference to provide input on the proposed HCD, what they got was a report which proposed a new plan for the area – one in which an HCD may or may not come to fruition.
“I don’t just want a study that says, the consultant is going to look at it and then come back and say if we’ll even do an HCD,” said
Bothwell, who noted after the meeting that was exactly what council ended up approving.
At one point Bothwell noted that if an HCD was being put forth by staff as part of their report, why would the initial HCD not have been supported in the first place?
“Staff’s argument for using ‘multiple tools’ could have been supported with the HCD study as a priority tool, and ‘other tools’ supporting it – not the other way around,” said Bothwell after the meeting.
The HCD reconsideration, which had been approved in the 2020 budget generated an, “It’s Groundhog Day all over again,” from Bothwell.
With the HCD dying as a result of the tied vote, proponents of the HCD study said they had to support the staff report as it was the only option left.
Council approved, in part:
“That should Council wish to proceed with an alternate strategy staff recommend
a. That staff be directed to proceed with an RFP for the retention of a consulting firm to prepare a comprehensive strategy for the Main Street
East Area generally;
b. That Council proceed with a Heritage Conservation District, only if it is paired with a more comprehensive land use planning strategy for the Main Street East area generally, as outlined in this report;
c. That staff be directed to return to Council with the options set out by the consultant, including a defensible boundary…”