By Doug Draper
An offer for Niagara’s regional government to purchase more than 20 acres of shoreline property in the local municipality of Wainfleet was narrowly defeated by the Region’s council this February 9.
Niagara’s regional chair Gary Burroughs cast the vote that killed the offer when a recorded vote from councillors in the chambers, following a closed door meeting on the property matter that ran more than an hour, on the matter, in an 11-to-11 tie.
The property in question stretches along the beaches of Lake Erie and is part of the former Easter Seals campground which was purchased for about $3.2 million in 2005 by a company called Lakewood Beach Properties. According to sources Niagara At Large talked to in the days leading up to the February 9 vote, the company was offering to sell half of the property to the region for something in the range of $7 million – a price the sources said had at least some regional councillors wondering if it was a good deal for taxpayers. The other half is being used by Lakewood Beach Properties to build a multi-store condominium overlooking the lake.
The offer was tabled a week before the February 9 meeting during a closed session of the Region’s Corporate Services Committee and was given the green light by enough councillors present during that session to go to the full council for the vote. Sources said some of the councillors in favour of moving the offer forward, including St. Catharines regional councillors Andy Petrowski and Tim Rigby, received donations from parties with links to Lakewood Beach Properties.
Both Petrowski and Rigby, in separate interviews with Niagara At Large, said campaign donations had nothing to do with their positions on the property offer.
“I appreciate the support (from campaign donors) but they know I can’t be bought,” said Rigby shortly after casting one of the 11 votes this February 9 that would have kept the possibility of purchasing the Lakewood Beach land alive. Rigby said his vote was a show of support for Wainfleet Mayor April Jeffs and for the late Wainfleet mayor Gord Harry, both of whom expressed interest in purchasing all or some of the old Easter Seals property for the public to have access to the lakeshore.Petrowski’s response to any comment that campaign donations from parties with ties to Lakewood Beach influenced his interest in purchasing the property was “absolutely not, it did not affect my position at all.”
The first-term regional councillor for St. Catharines went on to say that he paid for about 90 per cent of the roughly $25,000 he spent on his election campaign out of his own pockets and would rather pay the rest of it on his own than have donantions influence his positions on issues.
As for his siding with the councillors interested in possibly purchasing the property, Petrowski said he and others were interested in seeing if the Region could still get a better deal from the company. “I will always have my radar up for a potential land purchase that can serve our region for generations, as long as it is affordable.”
Petrowski called the stretch of beach area the Lakewood Beach company was offering to sell to the Region and “jewel.” Working to acquire it would have been in keeping with the regional government’s “lakefront enhancement strategy” and overall efforts to preserve shoreline areas for public access, he said.
The “no” vote cast by 11 regional councillors and Burroughs at the council meeting, argued Petrowski, “shut the door on us ever knowing if we could get (the land) for a more affordable price.”
Lakewood Beach Properties directors Janice Raseta and Ralph Terrio are also the directors of Copper Cliff Properties Inc. and Port Dalhousie Management Corp. Copper Ciff Properties and Port Dalhousie Management Corp. donated $500 each to Petrowski’s 2010 municipal election campaign. Rigby received $750 from Copper Cliff and $750 from York Bancroft Corp., another firm with Janice Raseta and Ralph Terrio as its directors.
Grimsby regional councillor Debbie Zimmerman and one of the councillors who voted “no” to an offer she felt was not in the best interest of taxpayers told reporters following the vote “that the motion that got passed (that killed the offer) was the right motion.”
The (owner) has kept the best portion,” Zimmerman told Niagara At Large later of the half of the property Lakewood Beach is planning to build a multi-story condominium along the beach on, “and is now trying to sell the regional taxpayers a pig on a poke,” she added of the other half.
Zimmerman said what bothers her most is that a few councillors met with the owners on their own about selling the land and did not do with the knowledge or approval of council. The offer then showed up at a committee meeting of council with some members “trying to push it through” – a move that turned her and other councillors off and “may have cost the township of Wainfleet and the citizens of Niagara the chance to purchase this property in the appropriate way.”
Perhaps, concluded Zimmerman, another opportunity will come to purchase the property for the public in a way that includes involvement from start to finish of the full council.
The councillors who took the “no” side in a recorded vote where Zimmerman, Burroughs, St. Catharines regional councillor Brian Heit, St. Catharines Mayor Brian McMullan, Welland regional councillor George Marshall, Pelham regional councillor Brian Baty, Thorold Mayor Ted Luciani, Thorold regional councillor Henry D’Angela, Lincoln regional councillor Bill Hodgson, Pelham Mayor Bill Augustyn, Grimsby Mayor Bob Bentley and Niagara-on-the-Lake regional councillor David Lepp.
The 11 councillors who voted to move forward with the offer were Port Colborne regional councillor David Barrick, St. Catharines regional councillor Alan Caslin, Niagara Falls regional councillor Bart Maves, St. Catharines regional councillor Tim Rigby, Niagara Falls regional councillor Selina Volpati, St. Catharines regional councillor Andy Petrowski, Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati, Niagara Falls regional councillor Barbara Greenwood, Wainfleet Mayor April Jeff, West Linclon Mayor Doug Joyner and Fort Erie Mayor Doug Martin.
Niagara-on-the-Lake Lord Mayor Dave Eke, Port Colborne Mayor Vance Badawey, Welland Mayor Barry Sharpe, St. Catharines regional councillors Ronna Katzman and Bruce Times and Lincoln regional council Mark Bylsma were absent for the vote.
You can find out about who gave how much in donations to candidates who ran for municipal office in 2010 by going online to municipality where the candidate ran for a local council or regional seat and searching the government or town or city hall section of the municipality’s website for election expenditures.
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