Where Are The Municipal Leaders In Niagara With Enough Guts To Say ‘No’ To Any More Vandalism Of Our Heritage Areas?

Latest Port Dalhousie Mega Tower Plan Should Be Spiked!

A Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper

Posted December 13th, 2017 on Niagara At Large

Why is it that we can’t seem to have a heritage gem in Niagara – a last remaining remnant of nature called Thundering Waters Forest in Niagara Falls or a historic urban community like Port Dalhousie in St. Catharines – without vandals swooping in with dollar signs in their eyes and a building plan that wreck the place?

If you don’t buy what I’m talking about, spend a little time in the main branch of the St. Catharines Standard scanning through old copies of the local daily newspaper where each week the paper carries a piece called ‘Yesterday & Today’, featuring photographs of how a place in or around the city looked many years ago and how it looks now.

The historic Port Mansion Hotel – located in an Ontario designated heritage district in the Port Dalhousie community of St. Catharines, was completely levelled to make way for a high-rise condo tower that was ultimately never built. Another another mega condo is being proposed. File photo by Doug Draper

I’m sure most of you would compare the photos, often of a grand old home or building surrounded by majestic gardens and trees, replaced years later with a glass and concrete box surrounded by asphalt, and react the same way I do – ‘Look at what a beautiful place this was before they took a wrecking ball to it to make way for what? Progress?’

Tragically, you could fill book shelves full of examples of this kind of wanton destruction of places that were jewels – some of them man-made and some natural great – across this Niagara region at the hands of greedy property speculators and politicians who lack the imagination and intelligence to direct growth and prosperity in our communities in ways that don’t destroy valuable pieces of our heritage.

Often, when people in the community rise in opposition to this kind of vandalism, our political leaders will respond with one of the most stupid lines of all – ‘If we don’t say ‘yes’ to this, we are sending out a message that St. Catharines or Niagara Falls or whatever other community the build or rebuild happens to be planned in, is not open for business’.

The aforementioned community of Port Dalhousie is a textbook case where a decades ago, a group of developers came forward with a gargantuan plan for a high-rise condo building right in the heart of what was a designated heritage district – a plan that was opposed by many in the community and supported by others, including politicians who, you guessed it, argued that giving the green light to this was a good way of sending a message to the world that Niagara is open for business.

Well, after years of combat over what was called ‘the Port Place project’, including many months of costly Ontario Municipal Board hearings, an OMB hearing chair approved the project in 2009 and a wrecking ball was eventually taken to a section of the community’s heritage district, including the historic Port Mansion Hotel to make way for a condo tower that would never be built.

Open for business? To this day, all that remains is a depression in the ground where the Port Mansion once stood.

Yet, if decade after decade of destroying urban buildings of character to make way from something more soulless hasn’t taught enough of our municipal leaders anything, why should what happened in Port Dalhousie over the last decade or so make any difference?

As the old saying goes, one definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again, hoping that you’ll get a different result. So there were more than 200 people from Port Dalhousie and neighbouring communities, gathered this December 12th in the Partridge Hall of the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines for a city-sponsored public meeting on the latest incarnation of a Port Dalhousie, high-rise condo tower plan, this one being put forward by a group called Fortress Real Developments.

Public meeting, hosted this past December 12th, 2017by St. Catharines council, on latest Port Dalhousie condo tower plan. Photo by Emily Beth

With St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik, members of the city’s council, representatives for the developers and others lining a table of the Hall’s expansive stage as if the G20 w2as in session, members of the public, most of them residents of Port Dalhousie, got up one after another to argue why this plan for a 14-storey-high tower, accommodating more than 200 housing units, or concrete conglomerate” is a completely out-of-place intrusion on the historic character of the town.

If the city council approves this mega tower, said one young person  – a Port native and spoke with such passion about the community she wants preserved that the audience defied the mayor’s “no clapping” rule and applauded her anyway – “you are allowing a gem (of a community) to be destroyed.”

Others got up to a microphone to echo her words, a number of them emphasizing that they are not opposed to growth or development. They just want their municipal politicians and planners to promote growth that harmonizes with and enhances buildings and other features of the community that are already there.

“I am opposed to development that operates as an economic machine with no regard for the character of the area. … Take the sensibility of the place to heart,” said one resident.

December 12th public meeting on Port Dalhousie condo tower plan. Photo by Emily Beth

Still others urged the city council to tell the developers to go back to the drawing board and come up with a plan that is more in keeping with the community around whatever they want to build. Never mind coming back with one more intrusive high-rise condo plan that – even if it, too, receives Ontario Municipal Board approval – may very well suffer the same fate the first plan did.

“The previous development didn’t fail because people opposed it,” said one resident of all the condo units that were never sold and an adjoining theatre and stores that were never built. “It failed because people didn’t buy it.”

I have spent many years visiting Cape Cod, Massachusetts where I have come to make some close friends in communities built along the shores of the Cape and have a historic character quite like the Port Dalhousie I remember before the wrecking ball was taken to the end of a main street in the community where the Port Mansion stood.

One year, before the Port Mansion was knocked down, I took photos of Port Mansion’s heritage district, along with a computerized rendition of what the first condo tower planned for the area would look like, and community leaders, including planners on the Cape, called the plan “insane” and said it would never be allowed in any community on the Cape because the historic character already there is what makes so many people want to visit the place or make it their home.

An empty lot where the Port Mansion once was. File photo by Doug Draper

I’m sure my friends and associates on the Cape would say the same about this latest plan for Port Dalhousie.

Those residents who got up and spoke at the Performing Arts Centre this December 12th, made their case for preserving the rich character and heritage of Port Dalhousie with a passion and intelligence that should be enough to move any politician listening to tell those who can’t see past the dollar signs in their eyes to take their plan and spike it.

Niagara At Large will continue to follow this issue because as one speaker said – if a precedent as unwanted as this is set in a heritage district like Port Dalhousie, then what other heritage area across the region is safe. Stay Tuned.

To read more on this, click on the following link for the site for a citizens group called Port Dalhousie for Everyone  https://www.facebook.com/PortDalhousieforeveryone/ .

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For more news and commentary from Niagara At Large – an independent, alternative voice for our greater bi-national Niagara region – become a regular visitor and subscriber to NAL at www.niagaraatlarge.com .

 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders


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