A News Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted April 18th, 2017 on Niagara At Large
“Niagara, for me, it’s like a paradise, and I would like to make it better,” Benny Marotta, a person described as a “GTA (short for ‘Greater Toronto Area’) developer” by the Toronto Star in a story featured on the front page of that newspaper this April 17th.
Benny Marotta, as at least some of you may know, is not the only person staking claim to a desire to make Niagara better.
So is Niagara’s regional chair Al Caslin.
A four-page ad, wrapped around the front of every edition of Niagara This Week (published as ‘The Crier” in Niagara-on-the-Lake, “The Leader” in Port Colborne and by various other names in other parts of the Niagara region, features the blown-up headline; “Regional Chair Alan Caslin Delivers,” and goes on to showcase some of the ways Caslin and the regional council are “fostering an environment of economic prosperity.”
As Caslin would say to gin up the audience during his ‘State of the Region’ address this past March; ‘Now there is something to cheer about!”
Another person seemingly working to make Niagara better is Port Colborne regional councillor and the regional council’s budget chair David Barrick by calling out what he recently characterized as serious financial mismanagement by one of Niagara’s 12 local municipalities – the Town of Pelham – that could, according to Barrick,
Also working hard to secure a place in the ‘make Niagara better’ department is Fort Erie regional councillor Sandy Annunziata who sits on the board of directors of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority and who this past January followed up his new post as the NPCA board’s chair with a statement that while he’s at the helm, the Conservation Authority will “strive to achieve balance by listening to all voices,” including “carpenters and trades people employed in the home building industry, skilled workers in manufacturing whose plant can’t expand, and farmers looking to maximize yields through expanding their land use.”
According to Annunziata, others, like the current Niagara Centre MPP Cindy Forster, who has become an outspoken critic of the way the NPCA is operating these days, are “choosing to ignore their (meaning the homebuilding industry and others’) concerns and (are appearing) to listen only to those with an apparent singular agenda. In effect, she seems to be pandering to one special interest group, and only one.”
The so-called “special interest group Annunziata is referring to, although he would deny it, is the growing number of people across the Niagara and Hamilton regions who want a Niagara Peninsula Conservation to be what it historically used to be in many peoples’ minds – a strong voice for conserving what is left of our woodlands, wetlands and other natural places in the midst of other individuals and groups that might want to acquire those places for other purposes.
One could go on and on with the gallery of individuals in the region declaring their desire to “make Niagara better” or as Wainfleet Mayor who is also an NPCA board member and recently nominated Ontario Tory candidate in the Niagara Centre Riding recently put it, make Niagara and the rest of the province “affordable again,” but let’s get back to Benny Marotta and the April 17th story in the Toronto Star for the moment.
In that story, headlined; “New Money, old land – A GTA developer built a large winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake and is buying land nearby. Some in town wonder if he’d rather grow subdivisions than grapes,” we are told about the clear-cutting of a number of acres of trees on property next to Marotta’s winery on the outskirts of NOTL’s historic Old Town and concerns some people have that instead of wanting to expand his vineyards, he may be moving toward building subdivisions.
In the middle of all this, we learn that the permit for the tree cutting was issued by none other than – you guessed it – the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority.
According to the Toronto Star story, one Niagara-on-the-lake resident, a local real estate agent named Tom Elltoft, “was so concerned about the removal of the trees …. That he hired an Ottawa-based ecologist and forestry consultant (Brunton Consulting Services) to analyze what happened.”
“’The actual tree-clearing … substantially exceeded the cut area identified in the (NPCA) permit,” Brunton Consulting Services reported. “Although it has been suggested that ‘the majority of the trees were dead ash’ (by an NPCA forester and bylaw officer), the woodland habitat formerly dominating the subject property appears to have been ecologically sound.’”
The Star story goes on report that one Niagara-on-the-Lake councillor, Betty Disero, who has been trying to get to the bottom of the tree-cutting incident, tabled a motion this past February, “to get further clarification about the removal of the trees,” but that motion was defeated.
A more recent motion tabled by Disero, to have the province’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry review the findings and concerns raised in the consultant report was tabled by a majority on the town council to a meeting in June.
How interesting it is that almost any attempt by anyone to have a review done on something the NPCA has been involved in has either been defeated or deferred, or compromised in some way that leaves members of the public wondering if we will ever get a thorough, independent report on what is going on.
And what role has Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Lord Mayor Pat Darte played in all of this aside from chairing council meeting where motions calling for a closer look at what is going on are either defeated or deferred?
According to the Star story, he put it this way when asked why he voted against the motion last February to seek further clarification on the tree-cutting – “I voted against Councillor Disero’s motion as I felt the issue had already been dealt with at great length by the NPCA as they are the governing body.”
What does he mean by “they”? Darte sits on the NPCA’s board, putting him in a position to be part of this “governing body’s” decision-making process. This was a matter that involved a significant number of trees on a significant parcel of land in his municipality, for God’s sake. He was certainly better placed than Disero was to know what was going on.
But then maybe all we need to know about all of this is that Niagara is paradise and that anyone who questions removing another stand of trees or any other green features in the region is standing in the way of growth and prosperity.
“It’s almost to the point now where we’re saying to the developers, ‘You know what, we really don’t want you in town,’” one Niagara-on-the-Lake councillor was quoted putting it in the Star story.
So that’s the way it goes. We have all kinds of land inside the existing urban boundaries across Niagara where developers can build almost anything the zoning allows for. But for some reason, there is always this push to build into whatever is left of our woodlands and wetlands.
‘We’ve got to show we are open for business’. We have to accept a balance between conservation of these green spaces and more sprawling development. So we take a bit more, then a bit more, then we wonder why only 10 per cent of our wetlands are left in Niagara, before we get pushed into taking even more.
We have too many politicians in this region who lack the will and imagination to grow our communities in healthier, more harmonious ways with what is left of the paradise around us. They continue to sell us a false choice between protecting what is left of our natural heritage and growth and prosperity when, if we use some smarts, we can have both.
We don’t need to go on balancing our way to oblivion – to a place that James Howard Kunstler, calls, in a powerful book he wrote about the damage bad planning has done and continues to do to our landscape, “the geography of nowhere.”
“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone,” sings Joni Mitchell in the song. “They paved paradise, put up a parking lot.”
To read the Toronto Star story, click on – https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2017/04/17/winery-owners-land-deals-make-niagara-on-the-lake-nervous-about-whats-next.html .
To learn more about James Howard Kunstler’s book, The Geography of Nowhere, click on – https://thebldgblock.wordpress.com/2008/06/14/thoughts-on-the-geography-of-nowhere-by-james-howard-kunstler/ .
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