BY JOHN CHICK
Special to The VOICE
While the May 21 Pelham Town Council meeting was dominated by its decision to deny Leviathan’s exemption request to the Interim Control Bylaw, another contentious matter was also on the docket.
Council’s Policy and Priorities Committee also voted to recommend proceeding with the sale of the old arena lands, with a significant caveat that removed adherence to the original preferred development plan.
In a surprise move in March, council voted to take the 1120 Haist Street site off the market, and directed staff to provide a report on the future of the property. Last Tuesday, just over two months after that controversial decision, council’s tune had changed in the wake of that report.
“I think we need to get rid of all our expenses from 2015, ‘16, ‘17, and ‘18, that’s what [the sale] is going to cover,” Councillor Mike Ciolfi said in explaining his vote.
“Hopefully we can get a little extra money for it and possibly cover a swing set or something at one of the playgrounds.”
In the aftermath of the March 18 decision not to sell, Ciolfi had defended the move, saying, “Let’s look at the overall plan, and maybe a 40-year plan to see what the Town needs are going to be … affordable housing, a new Town Hall, things like that, before we get rid of it.”
Yet with the Town facing a sustained deficit and overwhelming public opinion in support of selling the now-redundant arena lands, it seems council sentiment shifted.
“The majority of the residents I’ve spoken to want to sell the property,” said Councillor Bob Hildebrandt — who voted for the sale in March and appeared befuddled by his colleagues’ actions at the time.
“I believe market conditions are favourable.”
Hildebrandt stressed that any development plan for the land would keep the site’s existing paddle court club and park in place, per the staff report.
Councillor John Wink abstained for the vote, as he has on all matters related to 1120 Haist, given that he lives nearby and maintains that any decision on the land could impact his own property value
The vote to sell came with the scrapping of the original site redevelopment proposal, which featured plans that were published on the Town’s website and in the Voice. Now, when the property ultimately goes back up for sale, real estate developers will come to the Town with their own proposals that will require approval.
“Put the lands on the market for residential use, and let the developers come to you,” Director of Community Planning and Development Barb Wiens said.
Councillor Lisa Haun, acting as chair of the Policy and Priorities Committee, wanted to make sure that the public was fully aware of the change.
“We’ve had so much discussion with folks … and so much feedback, don’t I know, that people made the decision [in the Town survey, in which 85 percent of respondent residents chose to sell] when we put it to vote,” Haun said. “They were looking at a proposed plan that looked a certain way. And now that’s not the way we’re going to go.”
Wiens replied that any construction proposals would require public input anyway.
“If there’s going to be any changes to the plan, it would require a public consultation process … a subdivision plan is also a public consultation process.”
There are development regulations built in to the staff report, including no back alleyways or short-term rental properties.
Age of disruption continues
Those short-term rentals—not unlike legalized marijuana—continue to wreak havoc with Pelham Town Council in this, the age of disruption. Council will remain status quo on the fact there are no municipal bylaws regarding short-term vacation rentals, such as Airbnbs, while staff completes a report on the topic expected in late summer.
However, Wink floated the idea of an interim control bylaw to restrict homeowners from renting out their properties in that manner, and essentially dared them to take the Town to court if they didn’t like it.
“That was something that we did look at last summer when this was hitting the proverbial fan, and based on the legal advice that we got, an interim control bylaw would not be effective in this case,” Wiens said.
“Quite frankly is it going to be worth their while to take us to court?” Wink replied.
Mayor Marvin Junkin questioned the length of time it would take to draw up an ICB.
Town clerk Nancy Bozzato said that any move to begin an ICB process would have to be tabled at the next council meeting.
Gypsy moth spray costs limited to affected properties
After much debate, council voted 3-2 to recover costs from the upcoming gypsy moth spray from only those Fonthill property owners whose land is in the designated infestation zones. This came after Councillor Ron Kore made a passionate plea for the Town to pick up the entire tab for all spraying in Pelham, estimated at $193,000.
“The issue is a community issue,” Kore said. “Why is it only 294 [households] are going to pay for the spraying?”
The cost now works out to about $231 per each of those 294 affected properties.
Kore cited a resident who had received a spray notice and told Kore he will refuse to pay the bill.
“To burden those 294 citizens is not right,” Kore said, before noting the importance of trees, and that the Town’s logo is the Comfort Maple. “We have a symbol of a tree representing our community.”
If costs were spread equally over all property owners in Pelham, each landowner would pay between $25-$30. However, logistics would make that tricky. For example, properties outside of Fonthill in the classified “rural zone” are not included in the current billing and are dealing directly with private contractors Trees Unlimited and Zimmer Air.
Ciolfi, whose ward is that rural area, is not happy with these contractors because of the even higher costs — over $500 in some cases — quoted to his constituents.
“It’s too late now, but we know that other companies can do this,” Ciolfi said.
Still, that’s a moot point with the Fonthill spray.
On that matter, Junkin disagreed the idea of the Town footing the entire bill—going beyond Pelham’s current financial constraints.
“Are we going to pay $193,000 because we’ve heard from five, six percent of people [complaining]?” the Mayor said.
Aerial spraying is scheduled to commence this Friday, but Trees Unlimited told the Voice that this is dependent on weather conditions.
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