06 Apr Planning Decisions – Expanding into the Greenbelt
This past Monday (April 3), Council considered a planning application that was requesting the expansion of a building (adding 2,397 sq.m (25,801 sq.ft.) to an existing 1,216 sq.m. (13,088 sq. ft.)) including increasing the parking lot from 95 to 229 parking spaces. The property and current building is outside the urban boundary and within the Provincial Greenbelt Plan Area and is designated Protected Countryside (Specialty Crop Area).
Staff’s recommendation was to deny the application. Council opted to approve the expansion. So what does this mean?
Council chose to goes against:
- Provincial Planning Policy
- The Greenbelt Plan
- Region of Niagara Official Plan
- City of St. Catharines Garden City Plan
- and does not comply with Zoning By-law.
In a time when there are protests across the province about expanding development into the Greenbelt, land being removed from the Greenbelt and after the city declared a climate emergency – council opted to approve a major building expansion in the Greenbelt.
Some maybe saying what’s the big deal. The owners of the building do wonderful community work and need more space to continue the good works and the building is already there.
In my opinion, the big deal is two parts: first, when we look at planning applications you cannot make a decision based on use of the development. The second is that while planning is done on a case by case basis – it becomes pretty hard to defend your plans, policies and by-laws when the next business or organization comes along asking to build in or expand into the Greenbelt. How many times have we all heard – they did it, why can’t I.
At this point I think that it’s important to note that, twenty years ago, council made a decision to go against the Planning department’s recommendation to approve the construction of the building at Louth and Rykert. A few of councillors on council today were part of that decision – they once again went against our Planning staff’s recommendation – because the building was already there – so I guess no harm not foul.
The planning decisions we make will have an impact on our city and community long after we have left council and well into the next 25, 50 and 100 years. I believe that as a councillor, when I am asked to vote on a planning application, I have to not think just of today – I need to think well into the future. We also need to look at past decisions and not make them again and again.
It was said during the meeting, “We hear all the time that we should do whatever we can to increase density, and that’s exactly what the church is asking for, increased density. And to me that is a positive.”
I certainly hope that when the next development with housing, comes to council and planning staff recommends it be approved that the councillors who voted to approve the plans on Monday, approve wholeheartedly and not use too much density as an excuse to go against it.