A Distinguished History as a Volunteer Community Organization
The Port Dalhousie Conservancy Inc. ("the Conservancy") is a Port Dalhousie community-based, volunteer organization founded in 1999 to pursue Heritage Designation. Its current mandate is to help enhance and preserve Port Dalhousie's unique cultural, natural and built heritage, and to reflect the views of residents on other major community issues. It is incorporated as a not-for-profit Ontario corporation.
The Conservancy, then known as PROUD (Port Realizing Our Unique Distinction), spearheaded the extensive community consultation process that led to Port Dalhousie being designated as a Heritage Conservation District (HCD) under the Ontario Heritage Act. It also was responsible for designing distinctive heritage signage for the new district and raising the required funds through private donations. In addition, the volunteer organization played a leading role in the protracted battle against a proposal from developer Port Dalhousie Vitalization Corporation (PDVC) to build a condo tower in the low-rise Port Dalhousie HCD.
PROUD (now the Conservancy) Founded in Port Dalhousie –
Concern Over Alexander Muir’s Homestead
A group of residents concerned about the possible loss of Alexander Muir’s historic home on Dalhousie Avenue met to consider the options. They were joined by the City of St. Catharines' Heritage Planner who explained that having the area designated as a Heritage Conservation District under the Ontario Heritage Act was the only way to have some protection for the area’s unique character. It was going to be a lot of hard work and would take years, the planner warned, as the community would have to be canvassed for support. It would then require Council’s support and, eventually, that of the Ontario Municipal Board. Undeterred, the group decided to proceed and PROUD (Port Realizing Our Unique Distinction) was born!
March 1999 to October 1999
Seeking Input From the Community on Heritage Designation
The initial group held its first public meeting at historic Dalhousie House in May1999. More volunteers came forward and a very public and democratic process was launched. This process included: multiple door-to-door distribution of Questions and Answers and other information; six neighbourhood public information meetings; several articles in the newspapers and; distribution of a survey to over 600 homes and businesses asking whether they were interested in pursuing Heritage Designation. The survey was designed by the City’s Planning Services Department and all the information distributed was first vetted by them.
Presentation of Heritage Designation Survey Results to City Council
“Our volunteers are pleased to report that the results are overwhelmingly in favor of designation (see attached Summary of Results). Of the total respondents (323 owners and 25 tenants), 285 voted YES, 53 voted NO and 10 voted NO COMMENT. Of those that voted YES or NO, the YES vote translates to 84% in favor for the total vote and also 84% in favour if only property owners are considered -far in excess of the 70% threshold that Planning Services had recommended.” Excerpt from letter submitted to Council October 25, 1999. City Council, under Mayor Tim Rigby’s leadership, was most supportive and voted unanimously to hire a Consultant to proceed with a District Designation Study.
November, 1999 to June, 2002
District Designation Study and Development of Heritage Guidelines
Council retained the highly experienced firm Archeological Services Inc. to prepare the first draft of the District Study in August, 2000. The Study concluded, “…that Port Dalhousie possesses several important heritage attributes. These satisfy the Official Plan (of the City of St. Catharines) policy requirements and meet all three important criteria necessary for heritage conservation district designation.” Following Council’s unanimous approval of the Study, a further public consultation process ensued as the consultant developed Conservation Guidelines for the new district. PROUD volunteers worked closely with City staff and the consultant during this period and a Steering Committee kept Council informed.
June, 2002 to December, 2003
Designation by Council and Final OMB Approval
Following this very open and democratic process that included extensive input from the community, Mayor Rigby and St. Catharines City Council unanimously passed By-law No. 2002-80 in June 2002. The By-law designated most of Old Port Dalhousie’s residential area, and all of the Commercial Core area, as a Heritage Conservation District under Part V of the Ontario Heritage Act. The City then successfully defended its By-law before the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) which found that: "..the process followed by the City has been a full public process and all requirements of the Province have been complied with." and "… the designation of the subject area as a Heritage Conservation District represents good planning." The By-law became effective in December 2003. PROUD volunteers worked closely with Planning Services and the City Solicitor to support the Designating By-Law before the OMB. Many volunteers attended the OMB Hearing and made presentations in support of Council.
February 18, 2004
PROUD Holds Public Information Meeting to Inform Community About
New Heritage Designation
A widely advertised public meeting was held at Port Dalhousie Seniors’ Centre. The main objective was to introduce the new volunteer heritage advisory committee appointed by Council and explain the potential impact of heritage designation. Over two hundred residents attended the meeting, and the new committee and city staff made detailed presentations. In addition, all groups active within the community were invited to make a presentation so that everyone understood their specific involvement and how one could participate. There were questions and answers and PROUD volunteers sought and obtained feedback from those attending.
January to May, 2004
Designing and Funding Heritage Street Signs for Port Dalhousie
Despite the lengthy process to secure Heritage Designation PROUD’s tireless volunteers then took on another major challenge –distinctive signage to identify the new district and enhance community pride. A committee of volunteers was first struck to design appropriate signage. This committee did extensive research and designed street and gateway signs that emphasize the 1829 opening of the First Welland Canal at Port Dalhousie and the Village’s original Seal of Incorporation. The greatest challenge was then to raise the approximately $20,000 required since the City was unable to fund these new signs. Volunteers were told it might take years to raise this money and the signs would have to be introduced a street at a time. Much to everyone’s amazement, PROUD’s Sign Fundraising Committee was able to raise all required funds within three weeks.
There was an outpouring of support from both the residential and business communities. PROUD again worked closely with Mayor Rigby who had been such a strong supporter of Heritage preservation. The City agreed to install the new heritage signs and all 68 street signs and two gateway signs were installed by late Spring.
June 4, 2004
Official Heritage Designation Ceremony and Celebration
PROUD volunteers worked closely with the St Catharines Heritage Committee and City officials to organize the ceremony officially celebrating the designation of Port Dalhousie as a Heritage Conservation District. The ceremony coincided with the City and the Canadian Canal Society hosting the World Canals Conference. It was attended by many residents as well as Mayor Rigby, several City and Regional Councillors, local MPP Jim Bradley, local MP Walt Lastewka and, last but not least, a number of international delegates to the World Canals Conference. The international delegates remarked on how well-preserved and unique Port Dalhousie was and called Port one of the last relatively-intact 19th century canal villages. The efforts of PROUD volunteers were recognized by the St. Catharines Heritage Committee and City Councillors. Messrs. Bradley and Lastewka each presented appreciation certificates to PROUD on behalf of the Provincial and Federal governments.
June 18, 2004
PROUD Develops Draft Position on New Development in the Commercial Core
In February, 2004, only weeks after OMB approval of the Heritage Designation, the newly-formed Port Dalhousie Vitalization Corporation (PDVC) informed us they had purchased a significant number of the properties in the commercial core of the new district for development purposes. Our organization was initially very cautious and was reluctant to take a position on the proposed development until more information was available and PDVC had made a detailed presentation to City Council. Over the next few months, the size and scope of the proposed development became clear. Statements made by the PDVC to council, at public meetings, and in the media aroused concern. PROUD was NOT against development, but the community expected it to voice a position on the highly publicized proposal. At a General Meeting held June 18, 2004, PROUD volunteers developed a Draft Position that reflected the concerns voiced in the community, regarding ANY development. The Draft Position was respectful of the existing Official Plan, by-laws and Heritage Guidelines approved by St. Catharines City Council for Port Dalhousie.
June to September, 2004
PROUD Validates Draft Position through Community Survey
A Committee was struck to communicate this draft position and refine/enhance it as required. The Committee used quantitative research to ensure the draft position accurately reflected the views of the overall community. Committee members, who included volunteers with extensive research, management, legal and analytical experience, designed a survey that tested both the draft position and the proposed development as known at the time –including a controversial, glass-clad condominium tower. The Survey Results are statistically significant and show overwhelming support for the Draft Position that was tested. Port residents supported Mixed Use (combined Commercial and Residential) Downtown Development but wanted the scale limited and the main focus to be Recreational as opposed to Commercial. They strongly (90%) rejected the proposed tower and felt ANY new development must preserve the Streetscape and Heritage Buildings, maintain Public Access and not aggravate Parking/Traffic problems.
November 4, 2004
PROUD Holds Public Information Meeting to Present Highlights of PDVC’s
Official Submission to the City
The results of the survey were immediately presented to the developers (PDVC) to ensure they were aware of how the vast majority of residents felt before they finalized their submission to the City. Results were also presented to the Mayor of St. Catharines and other members of City Council. Regrettably, PDVC submitted a detailed Development Proposal to the City in September 2004 that largely ignored the wishes of the vast majority of residents as expressed in the Survey Results. The proposal would eventually lead to the destruction of several of the Heritage Buildings owned by PDVC. In addition, the proposal still included a massive 328-foot (100- metre) high glass tower. PROUD held a public information meeting on November 4, 2004 at the Lions’ Centre to present the highlights of PDVC’s submission. Approximately 250 residents attended and an overwhelming majority expressed their disapproval of the proposal.
PROUD Launches SOS (Save Our Seaport) Campaign
After detailed review of PDVC’s submission to he City, PROUD volunteers launched the SOS campaign whose main objective was to communicate with our elected officials to help ensure they do not approve a development proposal that does not respect Port's unique character (or the Official Plan, Zoning By-laws and Heritage Guidelines). PROUD is not against appropriate development that respects the wishes of the majority of our residents and preserves the 19th century lakefront village streetscape that all St. Catharines (and Niagara Region) residents treasure. To support SOS, PROUD volunteers also launched a new community information website Saveport.ca that provides detailed information on PDVC’s proposal and its impact. Volunteers also formed four Committees: Government Relations (communicates with Council and other levels of government); Community Relations (communicates with, and elicits participation from the community); Partnerships (seeks alliances with, and support from, other organizations) and; Research (verifies information and ensures all communications are factual and accurate).
January 9, 2005
PROUD Incorporates in Anticipation of Possible OMB Hearing on PDVC’s Proposal
PROUD’s co-chairs announced that the volunteer organization had been incorporated as PROUD Port Dalhousie – a not-for-profit Ontario corporation (corporate name was eventually changed to Port Dalhousie Conservancy Inc.) At a general meeting held at St. Andrew’s Church hall, David Bergen and Carlos Garcia explained that incorporation was recommended to allow for effective representation in the event that the application by the Port Dalhousie Vitalization Corporation goes to the OMB. They explained that they expected that Council would reject PDVC’s application because it contravened a number of planning regulations including the Planning Act, the city’s Official Plan and Secondary Plan for Port Dalhousie, the Zoning By-law and Heritage Guidelines. Nevertheless, PROUD is preparing should the developer choose to proceed to the OMB, based on the advice that it is better to appear before the Board as an incorporated organization than as a loosely structured group of volunteers. They also emphasized that PROUD continues to fully support development in the commercial core of Port Dalhousie, but not in the scale or height proposed by the PDVC application.
January 28, 2005
PROUD Launches The Port Reporter, A New Community Newspaper
PROUD Port Dalhousie volunteers launched the Port Reporter, a new community newspaper offering readers a different editorial perspective from that of the existing Port Dalhousie community magazine which was supportive of the proposed massive condo tower and retail development. The Port Reporter was to be distributed free to homes and businesses in Old Port Dalhousie and adjacent neighbourhoods starting January 31, 2005. It will also be available online on PROUD Port Dalhousie’s website, . The new community newspaper will help ensure the people of St. Catharines and the Region understand why the proposed development is inappropriate for Port Dalhousie. New development must benefit all area residents and respect Port’s unique character.
First Tower Proposal Suddenly Withdrawn
The first application by PDVC was unexpectedly withdrawn minutes before midnight on October 26, 2005 - the day before the City’s Planning Services Department was to release its report and recommendation to Council. Although PDVC identified other reasons (Eric Moog Letter), PROUD believed the key reason was likely a very negative Planning Report and the Peer Reviews it included from ERA Architects (Heritage issues) and Paradigm (Parking and Traffic). PDVC's lawyer requested this report be kept secret and even threatened the City with legal action if the report was released. Council yielded to this pressure and voted 7 to 5 to keep the report secret.
PROUD, the St. Catharines Standard and others believed the public had a right to know and appealed to Ontario’s Freedom of Information Commissioner to have the Reports released.
Mayor Rigby Forms Secret Committee
Despite widespread opposition to the withdrawn proposal throughout the City as confirmed by a City-wide Brock University MBA Consulting Service Poll , St. Catharines' Mayor Tim Rigby, who stated he was in favour of the proposal all along, formed a secret Action Committee of his business and other friends to "try and re-ignite" the proposal. The Mayor did meet with members of PROUD's Executive Committee to get our feedback and then finally revealed the composition of his secret committee on January 9, 2006
Developer Hires New Architect
Also on January 9, 2006 members of PROUD's Executive Committee had an opportunity to meet Michael Kirkland, the new architect hired by PDVC to design a new development concept for their Port Dalhousie properties. Michael contacted us at the suggestion of Catherine Nasmith who was President of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario and publishes Built Heritage News. She had been most supportive of our struggle for appropriate development in Port and was very hopeful about Michael's expertise and his ability to take into consideration the concerns of the community.
PDVC Submits Second Tower Proposal
When PROUD's Executive met Mr Kirkland in early January, we articulated the community's position and why there was such widespread opposition to the first tower proposal.. We also gave concrete suggestions as to how to make the new project work for both sides. He assured us this was the beginning of an extensive consultation process and "everything was negotiable." Then, in early February, he introduced a full new application with a repackaged tower proposal that largely ignored our input. We carefully reviewed the application and met him several times to seek appropriate changes. Unfortunately, he took a firm position that only the same components, density and square footage as before will work and would not consider ANY changes. It was extremely disappointing but "nothing" was negotiable. Finally, on March 6, 2006, PROUD issued a Media Release announcing that it had no choice but to oppose the repackaged tower proposal and launch SOS Part 2.
Public Information Meeting on Second Tower
A Preliminary Public Information Meeting was held at the Quality Inn in St. Catharines on March 21, 2006. Similar to the Preliminary Meeting on the first proposal, attendance was massive. Approximately 900 people attended (likely an Ontario record) and, by our estimates, about two-thirds had serious concerns or were opposed. Mr. Kirkland was the main representative for the developer and was very vague in his answers. Despite this huge show of concern, PDVC forged ahead and Planning set June 13/14 /15 as the dates for the Public Council Meeting to consider approval (by contrast, 500 people attended a meeting on a proposed ROM tower in Toronto and the developer promptly withdrew his application).
PROUD Retains Top Experts.
It became clear the developer and their supporters at City Hall would not be swayed by public opinion and that the final decision on the fate of Port Dalhousie may be made by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). In early May, 2006, our volunteers retained top Land Use lawyer Jane Pepino and a top Professional Planner to support our efforts to preserve Port and lead the battle at the OMB if necessary.
Release of Secret Reports on Second Tower
Also in May, 2006, the Peer Review (heritage) by ERA Architects and the Planning Staff Report on the second massive tower proposal for Port Dalhousie were released. Despite the fact that the proposal appeared to clearly violate the City's Official Plan, Secondary Plan for Port, Zoning By-Law and Heritage Guidelines --all of which this Staff helped develop-- the recommendations in both reports were to approve this second tower. In addition, just before the release of the Planning Reports, Council received a letter from the developer's lawyer. With this letter, the developers gave Council their blessing to release the hitherto secret reports on the first tower proposal. Even though they presumably did not know what was in either report, they all of a sudden decided to lift the veil of secrecy. It was most interesting that both ERA and Planning flatly rejected the first tower proposal yet, they were now recommending approval of the second even though little had changed.
Marathon Public Council Meeting
Could the community fight the Mayor, Staff, a powerful developer with deep pockets, their support group and even the local newspaper which came out with a pro-tower editorial right in the middle of the Public Council Meetings? The answer still lies in Winston Churchill's famous speech to the boys at Harrow School in 1941: "Never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."
The community put on an amazing display of determination and 65 individuals spoke from the heart to tell Councillors why this was the wrong proposal for their cherished village (this is likely also a record for Ontario). The meeting went on for five full evenings (about 4.5 hours each) and, even though the developer had expected Council was a "slam dunk" they had to scramble to get it through. In the end, on June 27th, 2006, Councillors voted 7-5, with the Mayor voting, to approve the proposal. Then on July 31st, the same Mayor and Councillors voted 7-5 again to approve a Rezoning and Official Plan Amendment that will allow a 62 metre condo tower where only 11 metres are currently allowed.
Region of Niagara Council Meeting
The community appealed City Council's decision to the OMB and, in fact, there were twenty separate appeals filed including one by PROUD Port Dalhousie. The final local hurdle was Regional Government which must approve the Official Plan Amendments (OPA) of each of its municipalities. We were buoyed by the fact that a letter from the Provincial Ministry of Culture (responsible for Heritage) recommended rejection. There were also expert reports from Goldsmith & Borgal (heritage) and Barlow and Associates (theatre) that recommended rejection and questioned the proposal's feasibility. The Regional Planning Report also strongly recommended rejection. Nevertheless, Regional Governments have been accused of being merely a "rubber stamp" for Municipal Councils and, despite very strong presentations from the community, the Region's Planning Committee and full Council voted to ignore their own planning department and approve the tower OPA on October 12th and October 19, 2006, respectively. Six separate appeals were filed against this decision and it became clear the community will likely have to fight this at the Ontario Municipal Board OMB).
2006 Municipal Election Results
The results of the November Municipal Election in St. Catharines were amazingly positive. The people spoke loudly and clearly and sent a message to our politicians. This message included: no more secrets, no more ignoring your constituents and, MOST DEFINITELY, no tower in Port Dalhousie. Our new mayor, Brian McMullan, who took a strong anti-PDVC development stand, won by more votes than the next three candidates combined (all of whom were strongly pro-PDVC development). Of the 12 City candidates that PROUD supported based on their potential for good governance as well as their stated opposition to the PDVC development, 9 were elected to office (plus a 10th was elected who is also very much against the tower development). Of the 7 municipal politicians that voted for the PDVC development, 6 were defeated (the 7th had no credible opposition).
OMB Mediation on February 27and 28, 2007
PROUD volunteers have always been reasonable and have on a number of previous occasions asked the developer to negotiate and change their proposal to one that reasonably meets the regulations and the citizens’ concerns –yet still allows a fair return on their investment. We had also been fully supportive of Mayor McMullan’s efforts to find a negotiated solution (as opposed to a repeal) and in late January, 2007, entered into an agreement to mediate with the developer via the Ontario Municipal Board's mediation services. The Board held this mediation on February 27th and 28th at St. Catharines' City Hall. Mediation started on the 27th at 10 am and ended at 1:30 pm the next day and there was NO resolution. Members of PROUD's Executive who were part of the mediation (as well as our lawyer and Planner and all other participants) are bound to secrecy by the OMB Mediator and are not allowed to disclose any of the proceedings. We can only state that our community organization and all the other appellants present did try extremely hard and put in many hours into finding an acceptable compromise but, this was not successful.
Council Withdraws Support for Tower Proposal, March 5, 2007
At its March 5th meeting, St. Catharines City Council voted to let the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) know it does not support the previous Council's approval of the condo tower development in Port Dalhousie's Heritage District. It further voted to require the developer to apply for Heritage Permits for its tower project BEFORE the OMB Hearings can proceed. This was a huge victory for democracy as the majority position of Council reflects the strong mandate they received at the November election that VOTERS DO NOT WANT THIS PROJECT AS PROPOSED.
OMB Pre-Hearing on March 13, 2007
At the OMB Pre-Hearing, the developers' lawyer confirmed they will submit applications for Heritage Permits (as was requested by Council) BUT, the applications will be for the same old tower proposal - NO CHANGES. This flies in the face of the Mayor's desire for the developer to "...work with the City and the community to come up with a more acceptable compromise." They were just totally ignoring Council's motion that it does not support the previous Council's approval -and widespread opposition throughout the City- and just plowing ahead. Their lawyer speculated that if Council does not approve their Heritage Permits, they will just appeal that decision.
The OMB also ruled that a second Pre-Hearing would likely be held on October 16th and 17th to identify new issues and participants arising from the Heritage Application process, and to finally determine what issues will be addressed at a Hearing. They have also set 10 weeks of Board time aside for an OMB Hearing stating in January, 2008.
Council Provides Strong Rationale for Withdrawing Support, April 2, 2007
To strengthen and clarify its position, City Council passed a very special motion regarding the Port Dalhousie condo tower application on Monday night, April 2, 2007. The motion made quite clear Council did not support the previous Council's decision on the Port tower proposal because it is contrary to applicable Planning Regulations and Heritage Guidelines. The motion also specified how this Council's position would be supported at an OMB Hearing and Council will now call evidence at the OMB from the Regional Planner and others against the previous Council's position.
The Regional Planner submitted a very professional report that recommended denial of the application based on sound planning principles, and included comments from the Ministry of Culture and other experts.
Developer Submits Heritage Permit Applications
On August 10, 2007 completed Heritage Permit Applications and a Site Plan Application were finally received by the City.The applications were approximately 2 months late as at the OMB Pre-Hearing the developer had indicated they would be submitted by Mid-June. As expected the developer continues to ignore the wishes of Council and the City’s residents and has not changed the proposal to one more consistent with applicable regulations. The applications, which are for exactly the same inappropriate tower proposal, were to be reviewed by the City’s two Heritage Committees.
Developer Appeals Site Plan to OMB
On September 17, 2007, PDVC filed an appeal due to Council's failure to deal with the Site Plan application within 30 days of submission.
Council Retains Outside Planner for Potential OMB Hearing, September 24, 2007
Council then passed motions to retain an outside planner and to ask the OMB to delay BOTH the Pre-hearing (PHC) scheduled for October and the Hearing scheduled for January by 6 weeks. The outside planner was required because the City's Director of Planning was now supporting the second tower despite rejecting the first (see Release of Reports above). The delays were necessary because the HPAs were late and there was not sufficient time for Council to make its decision before the scheduled PHC. The OMB eventually rescheduled the PHC for November 26, 2007 and the Hearing itself to February 20, 2008.
Council Rejects Heritage Permits as Recommended by Heritage Committees, October 22, 2007
The two Heritage Committees each devoted extensive time and effort to reviewing the HPAs in detail and held several unscheduled meetings to ensure every aspect of the applications was considered. They each eventually submitted, separate, comprehensive, detailed Heritage Reports recommending rejection and providing specific reasons based on applicable regulations. Council accepted the Committees' recommendations, which were supported by City Heritage Planner Kevin Blozowski, and voted to reject the HPAs on October 22, 2007. The developer subsequently appealed Council's rejection of the HPAs.
Site Plan application Also Rejected, November 12, 2007
Council voted to refuse the developer's Site Plan Application based on a report from Planning that identified regulations contravened and considered the application premature. Along with Council's refusal of the Heritage Permits this further strengthened what should already have been a very strong case at the OMB.
Second OMB Pre-Hearing, November 26, 2007
The Board confirmed the Hearing had been scheduled to start February 20, 2008. Jane Pepino, our lawyer, attempted to have the hearing phased, so that heritage-related items would be reviewed first, with the rest being considered only if the heritage concerns of the project were approved by the Board (extremely unlikely in our opinion). The lawyer for PDVC argued successfully that it should all be held at one time, with the result being that the full hearing is now expected to go on for a full 15 weeks because of the complexity and precedent-setting nature of the issues.
Witness and Participant Statements for OMB Hearing Submitted, January 18, 2008
As per the OMB's Procedural Order for the Hearing, all Expert Witnesses and Participants for both sides submitted their statements by January 18, 2008. The City kindly made all these Statements available for viewing on their website. PDVC expects to call 13 Expert Witnesses to support their argument for a tower in a low-rise heritage district.
OMB Hearing Starts, February 20, 2008
The long-anticipated Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) Hearing, which was to decide whether historic Port Dalhousie's heritage and village feel would be protected, finally started on February 20, 2008 at Council Chambers, St. Catharines City Hall. OMB Vice-Chair Susan Campbell, an experienced lawyer who has served on heritage organizations in Kitchener, was the Chair of this Hearing. Proceedings were typically four days per week from 9:30 am to 4 pm and open to the public. The initial session was mostly procedural and PROUD lawyer Jane Pepino asked for direction on whether PDVC could present evidence on two alternatives: one with Hogan's Alley and some public land and one without. Chair Campbell ruled they could but, she also confirmed that if the Board were to approve some form of a proposal that includes building on public land not owned by PDVC, the Board can not direct the City to sell that land. PDVC would then have to apply for a heritage permit which could be appealed and likely go through a public meeting process.
Ms. Campbell also set aside the evening of April 9th starting at 6:30 pm for members of the public who oppose the tower proposal to speak at City Hall. Members of the developer's lobby group and anyone supporting the tower could speak on April 8th.
OMB Hearing: The First Fifteen Weeks
The full Hearing was originally scheduled to last 10 weeks and this was extended to 15 weeks at the second OMB Pre-Hearing in November, 2007. Unfortunately, the developer's witnesses alone consumed just over 10 weeks and then City Solicitor Annette Poulin started the City's case against the tower proposal. After the City, PROUD Port Dalhousie started its case on Monday May 26, 2008. The full Hearing was then expected to take 20 or more weeks and not end before November, 2008 following a four-month break due to scheduling conflicts. The first fifteen weeks were painfully slow and costly as the developers got to present their case first and covered a number of witness reports word by word (see OMB Highlights). Thursday, June 5th was the last day at the Hearing before the four month break.
OMB Hearing: The Final Six Weeks
The Hearing reconvened on October 8, 2008. PROUD Port Dalhousie completed its case first and this was followed by the cases of other appellants from the community. October 27th was the last day of testimony by witnesses and Final Arguments from each party were then heard November 10 through 14 and November 17 to 19 (see OMB Highlights). November 19th was the final and 71st day of the Hearing. We then awaited the Board's decision which was expected in late January or early February of 2009.
OMB Decision: Tower Approved
On February 26, 2009 the Board finally issued its decision. The Decision approved the tower proposal in its entirety with the exception of requiring some additional parking for the proposed underground theatre. Chair Campbell maintained her record of ruling on the developer's side in, what we believe to be, most of the cases she has heard. The Chair preferred the testimony of witnesses from the developer’s side over the testimony from witnesses from the City, PROUD and others in almost every single issue. She accepted the argument that as long as the proposal claimed to re-vitalize this development was acceptable yet, there was no onus on PDVC to prove the proposal would work. She focused on testimony from the City’s Planner and Peer Reviewer who fully reversed their position from their rejection of the first tower, and pointed out they were working for the City –not the proponent –yet, she totally disregarded the value of, and found disingenuous, testimony from expert David Cuming who was also working for the City when he drafted the Heritage Guidelines (who can know more about the intent of the Guidelines than the author?). Despite extensive expert testimony that the existing HCD plan contained all the components required for plans in the 2005 revision of the Ontario Heritage Act, she ruled that the District Plan for Port does not have the same status as those passed after the revisions to the Heritage Act in 2005.
Request for Review of Decision - March 27, 2009
Although Ms. Campbell ruled she would not treat the Port Dalhousie Guidelines as a Heritage Plan under the Ontario Heritage Act 2005 (which would accord it an elevated legal status) an OMB decision within a Heritage Conservation District (HCD) in the City of Vaughan was based on a totally different interpretation of the Ontario Heritage Act. The Vaughan decision, issued 8 days prior to the Port decision, directly contradicted Campbell's ruling. Therefore, although PROUD, had advised City Council it would not be appealing the Port OMB decision to the courts (a very costly process) the community organization and two others did request an OMB review of the conflicting decisions. PROUD strongly believed that the Port District Plan had the elevated status provided by the 2005 Heritage Act and that, accordingly, Council "shall not ...pass a by-law for any purpose that is contrary to the objectives set out in that plan". [41.2 (1) (b) of Ontario Heritage Act].
OMB Chair Refuses to Review the Decision - May 4, 2009
Chair Marie Hubbard ruled (Hubbard's Rejection) that the Port Dalhousie Heritage Plan did have elevated status as claimed by PROUD and the City but, she agreed with Campbell that the tower proposal did not contravene that Plan. This despite testimony from five leading heritage experts that the proposal did contravene the plan. Both Hubbard and Campbell supported the developer’s arguments that the Plan was not specific enough in stating that the height of new construction should not exceed that of existing buildings. In doing so, they ignored expert David Cuming who drafted the Heritage Guidelines and was very clear the intent was not to allow higher buildings (who can know more about the intent of the Guidelines than the author?). If the Board felt the Plan was not specific enough, should it not have erred on the side of caution? Is it possible to imagine that ANY heritage expert would have drafted a Plan that did allow towers in a 19th century village??
Impact of the Decisions
Prior to Ms. Campbell, the OMB had NEVER approved a tower in a designated HCD. The ruling significantly weakened the Ontario Heritage Act and set a precedent that makes not only Port Dalhousie but the other 90 plus heritage districts in the Province -including our own Yates and Queen districts- vulnerable to towers and inappropriate development. Developers throughout the Province will now be able to use this ruling to support proposals for condo towers in historic villages and HCDs, particularly if they are able to argue economic revitalization (which most usually do).
Significantly, the OMB has now reached a major decision based, at least partly, on purported but unsubstantiated economic benefits, whereas heretofore the Board had claimed it only focuses on Planning issues. NOTE: During the Hearing, the Chair also made it clear she felt the Ministry of Culture did not care about supporting its Heritage Act. She was particularly critical of the Ministry submitting comments to the Region without visiting the site. The Ministry also failed testify in support of their comments or otherwise try to advance the heritage protection and enhancement case that the City and the community were left alone to defend. This is already a huge concern for the other 90 plus heritage districts.
Funding the OMB Appeal
It was a daunting task for an all-volunteer community organization like PROUD Port Dalhousie to raise the funds to pay for legal and other experts required for a major OMB hearing. The full process from beginning to end cost PROUD over half a million dollars and this does not include the thousands of hours donated by so many volunteers. We were only able to do this because so many hundreds in the community were committed to saving Port Dalhousie and participated in the countless fundraising events as well as donated generously. In fact, we have been contacted by a number of volunteer organizations across the Province to tell us that what the citizens of St. Catharines have accomplished, in professionally participating in this process to the end, and raising the funds, is unprecedented.
Name Changed to Port Dalhousie Conservancy - August 2011
In August 2011, PROUD Port Dalhousie's Executive Committee passed a motion to change the corporate name of the volunteer organization to Port Dalhousie Conservancy Inc. (the Conservancy). The Executive felt the name Port Realizing Our Unique Distinction was designed specifically to seek heritage designation and Port Dalhousie Conservancy more accurately reflected the current scope of the organization's work and its focus on enhancing and preserving port's unique cultural, natural and built heritage. The motion was ratified by the general membership on August 26, 2011 and the name was announced in a Media Release dated August 29, 2011. In addition to the corporate name change, the new website, PDConservancy.org, was launched.
August 2011 - Conservancy Announces Locktender's Shanty and Area
The Conservancy is organizing a Restoration Program for the historic Locktender's Shanty and surrounding area. Working closely with the city's Recreational Services Department, Conservancy volunteers will restore, repair and refinish the shanty. In addition, they will beautify the surrounding area and create a walkway around and past the shanty to be known as Port Dalhousie Conservancy Walk.
Conservancy Executive Meets New Owner of Condo Tower Project - Fall 2011
According to media reports, Mr. Derek Martin, formerly with construction firm Concreate USLLP, purchased the interest previously held by Mr. Dan Raseta and Mr. Ralph Terrio in June, 2011 and now owns 100% of Port Dalhousie Vitalization Corporation (PDVC). Messrs. Raseta and Terrio retained ownership of properties on the west side of Lock St. including the Lions and the Bank Building.
The Conservancy unsuccessfully requested several times to meet with Mr. Martin but a meeting was finally scheduled through the intercession of Mayor McMullan. Mr. Martin missed the scheduled meeting but then attended a subsequent one. Mr. Martin told the City and the Conservancy that he is very familiar with the February 2009 OMB decision and intends to build the project with the theatre, hotel and other components exactly as they were approved by the OMB. Although the group claims Raseta and Terrio no longer have an interest in the tower project, Mr. Raseta continues to attend all public functions to do with the project.
New Owner Apparently Ignoring OMB Decision on Port Tower– March 2012
Despite his assurances that he understood, and would abide by, the OMB decision, reports indicate new owner Derek Martin wants to get rid of the proposed theatre and replace it with, of all things, a grocery store. The Port Dalhousie Conservancy issued a Media Release stating that removing the theatre and/or making other major changes to the OMB-approved Tower proposal, will require a full new application and public meeting process. At the OMB, PDVC insisted the theatre would work even though they were told by expert witnesses that it would not be successful or profitable and, they were alerted about the high likelihood of a downtown Performing Arts Centre. Without the theatre the project becomes primarily a condo tower development in a low-rise Heritage District so, if PDVC want changes, they are encouraged to submit a new application that is consistent with the Heritage Guidelines and other applicable planning policies. The Conservancy remains, as always, ready and willing to work with the developer to help craft a more appropriate proposal that will be likely to receive required approvals and respects the wishes of the residents.
City Approves Major Reversal of OMB-Approved Heritage Conservation
In April, 2012 PDVC proposed huge changes to the OMB- approved Heritage Conservation Strategy that they themselves had submitted to the Board. The changes amounted to demolishing most of the historic Lakeside Hotel and an original 1860 wall of the Port mansion. They claimed these changes were just “refinements” (in whose dictionary?) and necessary because of problems with water in building the underground parking –something they had been aware of all along. The Port Heritage Committee did not buy that these were minor changes and unanimously passed a motion that “The Committee rejects the proposed changes because they are contrary to the OMB decision and because they would result in significant loss of heritage and, the committee encourages Council and the applicant to explore all potential planning and engineering alternatives". Despite this VERY strong motion, the Planning Department ignored the Committee and recommended approval. Not only that but, the Legal Department supported PDVC’s curious claim that the changes did not violate the OMB decision. Councillors did what they so often do and on May 7, 2012 voted with Staff’s recommendation.
Historic Port Mansion Demolished – Fall 2012
With sadness we have finally said farewell to one of Port Dalhousie’s brightest and most popular attractions. The Port Mansion Hotel withstood winds and storms, hail and snow for 152 years but it could not counter the onslaught of power-hammers, bulldozers and the dreaded wrecking ball. It has gone forever. The Port Mansion started as two separate hotels dating back to 1860. One, the Union Hotel, was built by Squire Nathan Pawling. The second was the McGrath Hotel, built by Bernard McGrath as a home for his family, the headquarters for his prosperous towing business, and as a rooming house to generate a little cash flow. The two properties were merged in 1936. At the OMB, the developer argued the alterations completed in 1979 had spoiled the heritage significance and, unfortunately, the Board bought that argument. Yet visitors were impressed.
PDVC Announces Plans for Another Condo Development on Historic
Lakeport Road – February, 2013
Is the plan to have condos replace all the heritage buildings in Port’s historic Commercial core? The OMB approved the tower project because of the claim it would revitalize. Also, the developer argued that the tower would support preservation of the remaining heritage. Opponents argued that the one tower would open the door to St. Catharines residents’ treasured waterfront becoming a wall of condos but, the developer successfully argued this would be the ONLY high-rise. Well…in addition to the approved tower site, the developer group (either the previous owners or the current team) already own the Lion’s Hotel and old Bank building on the West side of Lock St. and we understand they have also purchased the Spice of Life building on Lock (old Post Office) and all the buildings on Lakeport (from the now-demolished Port Mansion to Murphys. Many of the businesses in these buildings have been closed and the village looks derelict. Then in February 2013, they told the Standard they plan a mixed residential/commercial project, involving the old Spice of Life property and buildings along Lakeport Road -including a new high rise. That wall-of-condos on Port Dalhousie’s lakefront looms ever closer.
Conservancy Launches New Port Reporter Website – June 2013
Responding to popular demand, the Port Reporter now has its own separate website. Anyone with Internet access can go to Reporter.org and view not only the current issue but any past issue going back to 2005. All the great articles and history are there and so are all the advertisements should one be looking for a specific supplier. The Port Reporter is a not-for-profit, community-information newspaper published by volunteers since 2005. The paper focuses on issues relating to the St.Catharines’ waterfront, the preservation of our heritage across the City and encouraging City residents to work together to improve our environment. It is currently published quarterly, usually in March, June, September and December. 3,500 copies are delivered to homes in Old Port Dalhousie and surrounding area including Cole Farm, Regatta Heights, Westport-Dalemere, St. George’s Point and Michigan Beach. It is also available at the Main St. Avondale, City Hall, Public Libraries and various business establishments.