Proposed New Zoning Bylaw ……”The Friends of Walker’s Creek” Community meeting …

Bruce Bellows, Ellen Savoia and Kevin Blozowski, the three principal City Planning Staff members responsible for the development of the Proposed new Zoning Bylaw, met with Members of the “Friends of Walker’s Creek” on Wednesday June 19th. This was the final meeting of these leaders with the public before reviewing the many suggestions, recommendations and concerns  resulting from a number of “Open House” public meetings, written submissions, meetings with the Chamber of Commerce, The Downtown Business Association, Real Estate Companies, various City Committees including the Mayor’s Development Review Task Force and more.  It is obvious in reviewing the 150 page document, also available on the City website, that a tremendous amount of work has been done to consolidate, harmonize and respond to the very many special regulations presently affecting various Wards, districts and  situations that currently exist. Now it is the City Staff’s responsibility to review, consider and revise the initial document before again presenting it to the public for comment in the autumn. They anticipate City Council dealing with the final version and adopting it prior to the New Year. With “The Garden City Plan’ as the major guide, the new Zoning Byalw will reflect and drive the future planning of the City and its many unique requirements. 
The initial expectation of the Wednesday evening’s meeting was a focus on Grantham Ward as a primarily residential area. As the City Staff presented a Power Point review of the new Bylaw, it was soon apparent that many items affecting other areas of the City will also affect Grantham Ward. Consolidation of many regulations means that planning will be more consistent across the City, that new regulations from the Provincial Government, the Region, the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, imposed since the former Bylaw was adopted, had to be incorporated, that concerns experienced in the past could and will be remediated with the new Zoning Bylaw. 
There are many instances where situations exist that will not conform with the new Bylaw, but what exists at the time the Zoning Bylaw is adopted, will be accepted … “Grandfathered” … until such time as there may be major redevelopment, at which point the regulations of the New Zoning Bylaw will be implemented and enforced. An example of this is where a school is built in a residential area, the school property will be identified as “Institutional”, however a provision of this regulation will state that when the school is no longer required and the land is offered for development, the new development must reflect the neighbourhood, namely “Residential”. When  existing retail shopping centres, such as the Pen Center or the Smart Center, seek to redevelop, or when new centers are developed, the new Bylaw will require fewer parking spaces to better reflect the normal need for parking. The space taken from parking will then be used for landscaping providing fewer acres of just asphalt, adding trees and such for shade and better water retention and certainly a better appearance and safer walkways for shoppers.  Walker’s Creek drains from the Walmart parking area at Bunting and Welland. After a heavy rainstorm, the Creek rises dramatically and an oil sheen can be seen on the water flowing to the Lake. With additional landscape absorbing more of this water, this pollution will hopefully be reduced significantly. 
Discussion included parking on residential streets, where the new Zoning bylaw will permit small business use, with one additional employee, in private homes or where permit driven additonal accommodation, such as  a basement apartment, will see increased population, without additional dedicated parking spaces on the private property.  Concerns expressed were in regards to increased No Parking restrictions requested by residents, inadequate parking remaining for visitors to other homes and potential danger to children playing or crossing streets. The matter of restricted sight lines for neighbours adjacent to homes where large RV vehicles or large boats are parked in driveways, was also raised. There is an inherent danger when backing out of a driveway and not being able to clearly see traffic on the street onto which the backing vehicle seeks to enter. The large vehicles and boats also create a vision barrier, especially when parked for long periods of time,  and, in some peoples’ opinion. detracts from the residential appearance of the neighbourhood. Both of these concerns had been brought to the attention of the City Planning Staff and they will be considering solutions.
Given the ‘landlocked’ nature of the City of St. Catharines, it is understandable that ‘infill’ development and additional considerations be given to appropriate accommodation for an increased population. With height limits on new buildings in force to maintain a neighbourhood appearance, consideration of town houses with separate upper and lower homes is mentioned. Multi family dwellings, such as  apartment buildings or condos, will be more acceptable on arterial roads … with possible retail space on the lower levels to support a ‘walkable’ community. With a realignment of the Downtown region, the intention to support the appropriate services for residents, along with promoted accommodation,  the future of an active City core will be enhanced. 
As in such a sweeping adjustment of this primary set of regulations, implementation will be a ‘learning curve’ for the City and the population.   “Friends of Walker’s Creek” are very pleased to hear that Parks, green spaces and parkettes are considered secure as part of the Garden City Plan and the new Zoning Bylaw. Approved uses of agricultural land is considerate, progressive and appropriate to the history and attractiveness of our area. Enforcement of the new Bylaw will be an ongoing concern as St. Catharines opeates on a ‘complaint’ based response. The expense of additional staff to see to enforcement is considered a serious hurdle that is yet unresolved. While inspections and permits will help control construction and development, enforcement of signage, building without a permit, as has happened with some student housing and additional accommodation in private homes, will be a challenge. 
Attention to details in the autumn will assure that the new Zoning Bylaw is respectful of the vision of the folks who call St. Catharines ‘Home”!! 
“The Friends of Walker’s Creek” are most appreciative of the listening received, the openness to discussion and the informed responses by the three City Panning Staff members.