Niagara This Week - St. CatharinesBy Paul Forsyth
Regional council pulls endorsement of growth strategy report, seeks more input from towns and citiesNIAGARA—Regional politicians have backed away, for now, from endorsing a report that some of them said could set the stage for a fundamental shift in how Niagara chases down growth it’s so hungry for.
Instead, any such endorsement has been put on hold until Niagara’s 12 cities and towns give their input, expected in the first three months of next year.
Clearly, some of southern Niagara’s politicians are skittish that the Region may be ready to shift its attention to pursuing growth in west Niagara municipalities such as Grimsby and Lincoln, near the booming city of Hamilton, and abandoning a policy encouraging growth in this region’s southern tier.
But West Lincoln Mayor Doug Joyner said at Thursday night’s regional council meeting that Niagara is shooting itself in the foot by not endorsing the report by regional planning commissioner Rino Mostacci.
That report noted that Niagara has had anemic growth or even population decline in areas of south Niagara in the last five years, but healthy growth in the west end, despite the grow-south push. Mostacci said last week—when a regional committee endorsed his report—that extensive consultation he’s had with the private sector has made it clear that the Region can’t push growth where it doesn’t want to go.
Joyner said regional council’s rejection of that endorsement for now suggests some areas of Niagara resent the growth that the west end is enjoying. “I’m not feeling the love,” he said.
Joyner and some other members of council fear that Niagara could push growth to other Ontario regions if it tries to dictate where growth goes in this region.
“We’re doing what we always do in Niagara: we’re taking two steps forward and three steps back,” said Joyner.
Port Colborne Coun. David Barrick, noting the proposed growth strategy is a 25-year plan, said it’s important to get it right.
“There’s no rush to just snap our fingers and be done with it,” he said.
Barrick said the current regional council has prided itself on being transparent and collaborative with the local towns and cities. That commitment should also apply to a strategy that could eventually play a role in shaping the future of Niagara, he said.
“Let’s back up what we say,” he said.
But St. Catharines Coun. Brian Heit said a plan that recognizes west Niagara as the real growth area, rather than south Niagara, is simply reflecting reality.
“This is talking about growth, it’s talking about the future, it’s talking about open for business, it’s talking about doing things differently,” he said. “If you’re in sales and you try to sell something no one wants, you’re never going to sell it.”
St. Catharines Coun. Bruce Timms called west Niagara “low-hanging fruit” that needs to be plucked now rather than spending a year in consultation.
“There is opportunity there,” he said. “We need to move when the market is hot.
“We want to seize the opportunity that the economy is offering, that growth is offering.”
St. Catharines Coun. Tim Rigby said it’s important that all 12 cities and towns be part of growth strategy discussions, but fellow St. Catharines Coun. Andy Petrowski expressed fears the growth strategy plan could languish.
“This is a classic case of analysis paralysis,” he said “This is ready, set, stop.
Welland Mayor Frank Campion, calling the report a “vague document,” said it’s key that the local cities and towns have input.
Grimsby Coun. Tony Quirk said there’s no reason why the Region can’t look at accommodating growth in west Niagara in tandem with efforts to promote growth in the southern tier.
Regional Chair Alan Caslin said the Region won’t do anything to deter its agenda of economic prosperity for Niagara.
“It’s not about us and them,” he said. “Whether it’s in the north, south, east or west, we will accommodate that growth.”
With land soaring in price and getting in short supply in Toronto and surrounding regions, Mostacci’s report said the province now estimates Niagara’s population will grow by 179,000 by 2041 — more than the combined population of St. Catharines and Welland. Niagara could also see 64,000 new jobs in that time period.
He said last week he hopes to have the new growth strategy in place in 12 to 18 months.
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