East Fonthill surplus land sale, NPCA, Quaker Meeting House on the agenda
BY VOICE STAFF
At the beginning of Pelham Town Council meetings, there is typically some shuffling of the agenda—items moved up or down, usually for the convenience of spectators—and the October 16 meeting initially appeared to be no exception.
“We are supposed to have a presentation from Paul Wilson of Colliers International Niagara,” began Mayor Dave Augustyn, referring to a representative from the real estate firm the Town has hired to market and manage the sale of its East Fonthill property.
“But he doesn’t appear to be here.”
“Yes I am,” came a voice from the hallway. A man identifying himself as Pail Wilson rushed in.
“I was told to wait outside, so I’ve been waiting outside,” he said brusquely.
“Ah, yes,” said Augustyn. “Well, please, Mr. Wilson, go right ahead and begin,” he said, indicating that Wilson take the podium. Wilson had not provided council with a written report, though he did remove a sheet of paper from his briefcase and glance at it as he spoke.
Wilson said that the 18 acres in East Fonthill, which Council officially declared surplus later the same meeting, had been advertised on local and Toronto real estate markets. “We already have seven groups interested,” he said. “Two from Toronto, four local, and one from Buffalo. We are going to be in the Globe and Mail, and then we expect to see even broader interest.”
Wilson explained that Collier had planned an auction on December 8, and that the lands would officially be on the market within the next two weeks.
“This will give potential buyers five to six weeks to meet with the Town, ask about permitted uses, and get their ducks in a row, so to speak.”
Council asked few questions of Wilson, and he was quickly dismissed, packing up his briefcase and shuffling off into the hall again.
Soon after Wilson had departed, Pelham Regional Councillor Brian Baty stood at the podium to speak on the happenings at Regional Council. Baty went quickly through his report, talking about a preview of the 2018 capital budget and an upcoming review of councillor expense policy. He also mentioned a recent presentation from local mothers who have lost children to opioid overdoses.
“The comparison was to people who are starving—it was the most emotional presentation that I’ve seen,” said Baty, adding that Regional Council put together a strong action motion afterwards.
Baty concluded with a brief mention of the discussion of Pelham’s finances that occurred at Regional Council’s last meeting, though did not elaborate on what had transpired.
When Baty had finished, Augustyn thanked him and provided several of his own comments regarding Regional Council.
“West Lincoln has recently taken on a debenture for a new community centre, of roughly twenty million dollars,” he said. “And council might be interested to know that West Lincoln is paying for the debenture by increasing taxes by five percent a year for three years, a total increase of fifteen percent.” Several councillors raised their eyebrows in surprise, but did not say anything.
Councillor Marvin Junkin was the sole member to substantively question Baty.
“I’ve had some emails regarding the latest layoffs at the NPCA,” said Junkin. “This is an issue that hits especially close to Pelham, as there are two cold-water streams here. I see that two of those fired were restoration specialists. As the Town’s representative on the NPCA, how do you see them handling, for example, requests to restore fish in cold water streams?”
“There was an audit done on that division,” replied Baty. “The finding was that there was a large amount of time in the year that no productive work could be done. In looking at other communities, it was determined that the work could be better done through outsourcing to groups such as Trout Unlimited.”
Baty said further that much of the issue had to do with ongoing negotiations between the Region and the NPCA over which body would be responsible for which duties.
“There is a high probability that these positions will be hired by the Region,” said Baty. “There has been misrepresentation from a number of parties, including the head of the union that represents those employees.”
Junkin asked no further questions, and Baty left the room.
In the latter part of the meeting, council spent a considerable amount of time discussing the old Quaker Meeting House on Maple Street in Fenwick. The building, which was first constructed in the 1870s, is owned by the Town, but since 1974 has been leased to the Greater Niagara Model Railroad Engineers.
In January, two Pelham residents petitioned the Town to designate the building a heritage site, and council subsequently asked Town staff to carry out a report on the building’s heritage value. The report, which recommends that council provide the heritage designation, was first questioned by Councillor Richard Rybiak.
“What is the zoning on that property?” he asked Town Director of Planning and Development Barb Wiens. “I know that we have the model railway group in there right now, but I’m wondering what sorts of other things could be happening on that property.”
Wiens replied that it is zoned as public land, meaning that any municipal or government use is permitted.
“So it would need to be re-zoned if used for any other purposes,” said Rybiak. Wiens nodded.
Councillor Gary Accursi asked Wiens if there was an inventory of architecturally significant parts of the building.
“The building is reflective of the character of its original occupants,” Wiens said. “Quakers were simple people—they didn’t believe in ornamentation. There is a modest entrance, and simple patterns on the windows, and much of it is believed to be original.”
Rybiak was not entirely convinced by the report.
“Are these parts of the building important because they’re unique? Or merely because they’ve survived to this point. It seems as though we’re considering something heritage simply because it’s old.”
Rybiak moved on to considering the building’s function.
“I see the building’s value as its function currently. The history makes interesting reading, but I’m not sure that it’s that important. The Quakers built it, but they disposed of it…There may be other uses for it in the future, who knows?…I have a great deal of difficult accepting that it has value from a heritage perspective, other than it’s a very useful building that has served us well for a long time.”
Augustyn said that the building’s importance as a heritage site would seem to be “self-evident,” though he suggested that perhaps the report could have included more specific information that would substantiate this.
Junkin voiced his support for the heritage designation.
“I think that this building is very unique,” he said. “If it was out in the hills of Effingham, no one would care about it. But because it’s in such a prominent place in the village—and in excellent shape—people care very much.”
Junkin conceded that the building’s current occupants, the model railroad group, did make things more difficult.
“The conundrum is that it can only be used by the railway people, since they spread out their stuff over the whole floor. That’s just the nature of the beast, that they’ve been tying it up since 1974. It would be a different story if it were just a group coming in on Tuesday and Thursday nights. It’s too bad that other members of the community can’t use it, but the only way we could do this is if we told the railway they couldn’t use it. What are you going to do?”
After several other brief comments, council voted, as Augustyn had recommended, to ask Town staff to provide more specific information as to why the building should be designated a heritage site. The matter will be discussed again at a later meeting.