Residents push back against development that “can’t be stopped”
BY SAMUEL PICCOLO
Less than three weeks after a contentious public meeting regarding plans for the Pelham Arena site, Town planning staff held another consultation last Saturday, this time to discuss the East Fenwick development.
About 70 Fenwick residents filled the local fire hall on a golden Saturday afternoon, perusing the posters of information before the event began.
Many in attendance were skeptical of the affair in advance. “They’ve already decided everything,” said one woman. Three others, residents of Welland Road directly across from part of the planned East Fenwick site, which is between Welland and Canboro Road at Balfour Street, announced themselves committed to more drastic measures.
“There is a grove of maple trees right across from our homes,” said Irene Birrel. “And we’ll chain ourselves to them if we have to.” Jeff and Sue Pietz, Birrel’s neighbours, nodded in agreement.
“Those trees are probably 150 years old,” said Jeff.
Pelham’s Director of Planning and Development Barb Wiens stood at the front of the room and explained the East Fenwick process. This particular area of Fenwick has been within an “urban” classification for at least 25 years, she asserted, and now that development of the land is imminent, the Town is drafting a secondary plan to guide construction. Wiens then introduced Ute Maya-Giambattista, a partner at SGL Planning & Design, the firm that the Town contracted to develop this secondary plan.
Maya-Giambattista explained that provincial regulations mandate that any new development within an “urban” boundary must be built at a density of 20 units per hectare. This density, which averages out to just under seven units an acre, is starkly divergent from the one-acre lots that currently characterize Fenwick. She detailed SGL’s efforts to retain the character of the village while still meeting these provincial guidelines.
Following an earlier public meeting held in June, SGL created two potential plans for East Fenwick. In the first, there are two dense zones of development, both of which span land between Canboro and Welland at Balfour. In the other, there are three zones of a lesser density, with one being added between Canboro and Memorial Drive.
“We have tried to create a soft transition in the plan,” said Maya-Giambattista.
In Option A, the prospective homes that will border existing roads would be on one-acre lots, to better meld with the current houses in the surrounding area. On another ring to the interior, there would be homes with much smaller lots. And then, furthest away from existing roads, the plan would allow for apartment buildings of four storeys.
“Is four storeys a limit or a suggestion?” asked a man in the audience.
“Well, it would be up to you,” said Maya-Giambattista.
“Make it a limit then,” the man said. Maya-Giambattista smiled and continued on with her presentation.
When she got to the fifth point of SGL’s process, the examination of Fenwick’s cultural and ecological heritage, the seal of questioning was broken and hands popped up all over the room. “What about the wetlands?” a woman asked.
“Nothing can be built there,” Maya-Giambattista told her.
“What about the Fonthill Kame?” said another man.
The recognized Kame does not extend this far, he was told.
Cris Beal, who said that he moved to Fenwick two years ago because he wanted to live in the country, asked a series of very specific questions about a woodlot that has been cut down near the East Fenwick plan and the current development project on Balfour. Wiens stepped in to answer, and when the two could not agree on where exactly Beal was referring to, he came to the front of the room and pointed on a projected map.
“Approval for that construction was given some time ago,” said Wiens. Beal didn’t seem entirely satisfied with the response, but he went back to his seat anyway.
John Klassen, a crowd member with substantial construction experience, asked about any archaeological study that had been done on the land. “Because you’ll probably find arrowheads, pottery, all sorts of stuff,” he said.
After referencing the cultural heritage assessment done by the Town in 2012, an assessment that identified areas where developers must conduct studies, Wiens tried to get the meeting back on track.
“I know that this is all very exciting,” Wiens said. “But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The scope of the secondary plan is high-level analysis.”
Wiens turned the floor back to Maya-Giambattista, who appeared just slightly deflated by the cacophony of critiques. She brought two representatives from the engineering firm working with SGL to detail the plan’s assessment of roads and water systems. Jeff Suggett, from St. Catharines’ Associated Engineering, gave all of the roads surrounding East Fenwick “A’s.” “They’re all sufficient for growth,” he concluded. “And that’s all for traffic. Now on to Rick for water.”
He waited hopefully for the crowd to laugh. No one did.
When Maya-Giambattista again stepped up to conclude the presentation, she acknowledged how uncomfortable this planned development made Fenwick. “I know it’s hard,” she said. “It’s different. But it’s part of the provincial mandate—so it’s like this for everyone.”
“So it doesn’t matter if we don’t want any development at all?” someone asked.
“No,” Wiens said.
“But what if the government changes,” piped up another voice.
Maya-Giambattista laughed. “Well then that could be a different story,” she said.
Klassen put up his hand again. “You’re just doing what you’ve been instructed to do,” he said, looking at her and Wiens. “The problem isn’t with you. It’s with our government in Queen’s Park. So we need to vote them out.” The room broke out into applause.
But Maya-Giambattista emphasized that development cannot be stopped. “The question is: how can we minimize the impact.” She cited suggestions from St. Ann’s Catholic Elementary School (SGL plans to meet with Wellington Heights’ students too), where students asked that Fenwick be made more accessible to bikes and pedestrians.
“Kids aren’t taxpayers,” a woman blurted out.
“No,” Maya-Giambattista said. “Though this plan is looking ten years down the line. And by then they will be.”
She said that part of the plan’s goal is to create diverse housing that will allow for residents to spend their entire lives in Fenwick. “We need to have options so that seniors looking to downsize have somewhere to go. And the diversity will allow for affordable housing too.”
After the presentation, Wiens, Maya-Giambattista, and the two engineers moved around the tables and answered questions as residents wrote their comments on the plans.
Not all present were interested in providing written suggestions. Gary Chambers, a prominent resident dubbed “the Mayor of Fenwick,” seemed resigned that development had already been decided upon, even as most residents wanted nothing to do with it. “The only thing missing from this event was a ‘How Might We’,” he said.
Chambers went on: “Maybe the kids want things. But all the young people are leaving. There are no jobs, and not one level of government—municipal, provincial, or federal—has done anything to provide work here. All we’ve got is a geriatric society. And that is not going to change. We’re all getting old. We’re all embedded in the way that Fenwick used to be.”
A junior employee of SGL, the planning firm based in Toronto, sidled up to Chambers and asked him what he was thinking. Chambers leaned back, sighing as he looked at her, stretching to his full, substantial height. She came up to about his chest. “I’m just venting,” he said. “It’s too much, too fast.”
“And it’s important to vent,” she said earnestly. “One thing we didn’t even get to was phasing. It shouldn’t be developed all at the same time.”
Chambers went on a long soliloquy about the history and beauty of Canboro Road. The planner, evidently impressed by his passion and knowledge, asked more about the area. The two stood in a slash of sunlight and talked for a long while, as the room emptied around them.
There will be another round of public consultation in November.