Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cooler heads prevail in NOTL

OK, no way around it, this is old news. The Ontario Municipal Board hearing into the Virgil rezoning for a proposed school site began and ended on April 12 in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
For those who'd forgotten, the District School Board of Niagara appealed a town council refusal to rezone a plot of land to allow for the construction of a new school consolidating two existing, older facilities. It's the other half of the school-closure review that will see Niagara District Secondary School close its doors in June.
On the day of the hearing, I received an e-mail from someone who received a tweet (gotta love social media) from someone in attendance at the hearing. Within an hour of that, I received the joint media release to my blogging e-mail address and was reading about the agreement between the town and the school. In short, the town agrees to rezone the property to allow for the new school and the board will include a community use library as part of the facility.
The release has its flowery language from Lord Mayor Gary Burroughs and the DSBN director of education and chair, making no reference even to the legal battle settled by the first day of what would have likely been a very interesting hearing. I'm no planner, but the school board seemed to have the better case in planning terms, and town council was just knee-jerk reacting in its displeasure over the NDSS decision.
In my experience with OMB issues, municipalities rarely back down from the hearings unless they're receiving advice from their solicitors after the pre-hearings that they should settle and avoid a full hearing. The board's orders overrule the planning for the plot in question and many municipalities would prefer to not have a quasi-judicial legal body set planning policy within their borders.
Anyway, of course, the St. Catherines Standard followed up with an article on April 13.
The board will also recognize the importance of having elementary students in Virgil continue to go to a school in Virgil.
"They wanted some assurance we wouldn't bus them somewhere else," Hoshizaki said. "That was not at all our intention anyway, but they needed some assurance we would endeavour to keep their kids there."
But not everyone was pleased with the outcome.
Coun. Gary Zalepa said he didn't agree with the terms of the settlement or the decision to not go ahead with the hearing.
"I didn't see the logic in backing down at this point," said Zalepa, adding the legal case had already been assembled and the town didn't save a lot of money by settling.
One of the terms of settlement was that money given by the Virgil Business Association for an international baccalaureate program at Niagara District Secondary School — which is closing — be credited by the school board with the condition the association reallocate funds for computer upgrades at the new school.
No surprise over the councillor's objections. He has been among the fiercest advocates for the plan to keep this zoned for eventual residential use as a spite to the board and continue advocating for a JK-12 facility-- er, sorry, a centre of excellence for all high school students in the town.
Anytime two public bodies can work together (as they should) instead of both pissing away public dollars in a legal battle, we win.