“This is a gem here. … Once it is gone, it is gone, forever.” – one of the many comments citizens made to Niagara Falls city councillors before they voted to move ahead with urban development plans for Thundering Waters Forest
A Brief News Commentary from Doug Draper
Posted May 9th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
A full quarter – 120 acres – of the 484-acre Thundering Waters Forest is now closer to being developed thanks to a majority on Niagara Falls’ city council who voted to let that step closer to putting shovels in the ground happen.
A six to two vote of approval for an “Official Plan amendment” for constructing what has been described as a multi-use Riverfront community in a portion of Thundering Waters Forest in the southeast side of Niagara Falls followed some three hours of presentations from members of the public – most of them speaking against any development in what many described a natural gem.
The approve comes with a condition that the developer – a Chinese investment firm called GR (CAN) Investment Co. Ltd – fulfill 27 recommendations, including working with the province’s Ministry of Natural Resources to have provincially significant wetlands (PSWs) on the lands designated as “environmental protection areas” EPAs with 30 metre buffer zones.
Those on the Niagara Falls council who voted in favour of moving forward with development plans for 120 acres of the Thundering Waters Forest include Mayor Jim Diodati and councillors Vince Kerrio, Wayne Thomson, Mike Strange, Kim Craitor and Joyce Morocco. The two ‘no’ votes came from councillors Wayne Campbell and Carolynn Ioannoni. Councillor Victor Pietrangelo was absent during the recorded vote.
Ioannoni stressed a number of times during the long public meeting and much briefer council debate before the vote that the city appears to be jumping forward before other key planning work is completed, making it ever more likely that opponents of the will have a strong case for appeal.
Councillors who voted in favour of moving forward with the plan noted that the Thundering Waters Forest lands have been zoned for development, in one way or another (at one point it was listed for possible industrial development) going back at least to the 1970s.
Those who voted for going ahead referred to the number of jobs – somewhere between 1,800 and 2,800 hundred, according to developer’s claims – if the Riverfront community is built. They also noted that China-based investors are said to be committing more than $1 billion to seeing the plan fulfilled, and openly worried about what kind of message Niagara Falls would be sending out to other potential investors if this plan was turned down.
Earlier in the evening, Joyce Sankey, a Niagara Falls resident and conservation director for the Niagara Falls Nature Club, challenged the council to consider encouraging the developer to locate the multi-use community – complete with housing units, a hotel and possibly a private hospital that would offer ancient Chinese medicine as one of its services – somewhere else in the city where urban development is allowed and is needed.
“It may be cheaper to develop on virgin lands,” Sankey added, “but it is a concept that Niagara can no longer afford.”
Another speaker during the public session of the council meeting, Dr. William Rapley, a scientist and executive director of conservation, education and wildlife for three decades at the Toronto Zoo, noted that he doesn’t feel the proper studies have been done on wildlife on the lands to make decisions now about urban development there.
Pointing to provincially significant wetlands (PSWs) that Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources has mapped out on the lands, Rapley concluded by saying that “80 per cent of our wetlands are (already) wiped out in Ontario and this is a gem here. … This is not to be taken lightly (because) once it is gone, it is gone forever.”
These words and many more like them did nothing to stop a majority on the city council from approving the plan, subject to the 27 conditions, at the end of the night.
There are piles of documents on the Thundering Waters Forest proposal. The issues around the fate of these lands are many, and the consequences of the city council’s May 8th decision and how it should be addressed requires careful review.
More news and commentary on all of this later.
To read the report and recommendations tabled at the May 8th Niagara Falls city council meeting, click on the following and go down to the bottom of the council agenda and click again on the “Riverfront” plan item – https://niagarafalls.civicweb.net/document/9475
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