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Timms says "its time to talk about Grow west now, because it's happening now"

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Municipalities to have say on growth strategy

By Maryanne Firth,
St. Catharines Standard

Municipalities will have a chance to provide more input on a growth strategy being eyed by Niagara Region.

Regional council opted Thursday night not to endorse the staff report but to send it to the 12 communities, as well as Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, Niagara Regional Housing and area school boards for comment.

The endorsement was recommended by the Region’s planning and development committee, but was axed after concerns were raised by councillors that additional municipal comment should first be sought.

Planning and development commissioner Rino Mostacci said the report “doesn’t commit regional council to any policy changes.”

“It’s a conversation … It presents information,” he said, adding any decisions “will come further down the line.”

The document, he said, is the result of primary data collection including information on changing demographics, as well as consultation with municipal planning directors and members of the private sector.

Regional staff, he said, has committed to presenting the strategy to each municipal council in order to provide an overview and answer questions.

While the document does talk about “establishing a structural vision,” Mostacci said, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a west Niagara strategy.

West Niagara, however, was the focus of much of the discussion among councillors.

“We have to put the lighter up to the places that burn the hottest,” St. Catharines regional councillor Andy Petrowski said, adding the “spark is going to start on the west side of Niagara.”

That will especially hold true, he said, as GO Train service is introduced.

“I’m all for getting the input, but I hope it won’t derail anything we’re doing,” he said.

While he approved offering the “courtesy” to municipalities, Petrowski said he didn’t want “this to languish into the next term of council.”

He asked that comments be received from municipalities by the end of the first quarter of 2016.

St. Catharines regional councillor Bruce Timms said an endorsement would deliver the message that the strategy is important and needs to be dealt with immediately.

Niagara, he said, must seize the opportunities that are being afforded to it.

A Grow South strategy was created and now it’s time to start working a west policy, he added.

“I don’t want to see us soft-pedal this,” he said, adding with a lack of endorsement, he doesn’t want municipalities to think the Region is uninterested.

“It’s time to talk about Grow West now, because it’s happening now,” he said.

“We need to move when the market is hot and I don’t want to see us delay it too long.”

Niagara already has a growth strategy in place that was passed in 2009, this is just adding to that strategy, said Port Colborne regional councillor David Barrick, who supported getting additional feedback from municipalities.

“This is a 25-year plan. There’s no rush to rubber stamp it and be done with it,” he said.

Coun. Tony Quirk was pleased with the information in the report that outlined what’s happening with Niagara’s demographics.

“It’s not telling us what to do,” he said, adding the document is simply outlining where growth is occurring and projected to occur.

“It doesn’t take away from what’s happening with the Grow South strategy,” he added.

Petrowski called going back to municipalities for more input a “classic case of analysis paralysis.”

“This is a ready, set, stop approach.”

The Region, he said, needs to fund the part of Niagara that offers the most promise and, in time, it will hopefully yield results in all 12 municipalities.

Regional Chairman Alan Caslin said Niagara will “never deny anything that pushes our agenda forward of economic prosperity.”

Regardless of where in the region that growth presents itself, efforts will be made to accommodate it, he said.
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