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This page has been intentionally left blank. Chapter Imagine Niagara Physical and Economic Background The Regional Municipality of Niagara is located in Southern Ontario between Lake Erie and
This page has been intentionally left blank. Chapter 1 1-2 1. Imagine Niagara Physical and Economic Background The Regional Municipality of Niagara is located in Southern Ontario between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. It corresponds approximately to the area commonly referred to as the Niagara Peninsula and will be referred to here as simply the Region . It is bounded on the east by the Niagara River and the State of New York, and on the west by the City of Hamilton and Haldimand County. The Region is at one end of the band of urban development around the western end of Lake Ontario. Chapter 1 1-3 The Region was formed in 1970 and includes all of the areas within the boundaries of the former Counties of Lincoln and Welland. There are twelve local municipalities within the Region; these were formed by the rearrangement and amalgamation of the twenty-six municipalities which existed before The Queen Elizabeth Way and other provincial highways place most of the Region within ninety minutes' travel time of Toronto. Hamilton-Wentworth, with a population of over 400,000, is about thirty minutes away from the centre of the Region. Four road and two rail bridges connect the Region to the western part of New York State. About 2,500,000 people live along the United States' side of the Niagara River. The developing industrial complex at Nanticoke, on the shore of Lake Erie to the southwest, is about an hour's travel time from the centre of the Region. Physical Characteristics The Niagara Peninsula area is not a true peninsula but is a narrow neck of land stretching between Lakes Erie and Ontario. The Niagara Escarpment, running east-west through the northern part of the Region, is roughly 100 metres (300 feet) high and is the dominant physical feature of the Region. A second Escarpment, the Onondaga, parallels Lake Erie in the southern part of the Region. It is a much less prominent physical feature. Centrally located in the Region is the Fonthill Kame Moraine, the highest point in the Region. The sand and silt soils on this moraine and along the Lake Ontario Plain are highly suited for the growing of peaches, cherries and grapes. Few other areas in North America have their potential. Land drainage in the fruit-growing areas is good, but is only moderately good to poor throughout much of the rest of the Region. Large swamps are located in the southern part of the Region. Chapter 1 1-4 The Great Lakes are a moderating influence on climate. Temperatures rarely dip below -18C, and there are more frost-free days than in most of Ontario. Snowfall is generally lighter than in the rest of the Province. While climate and soils provide excellent conditions for agriculture along the Lake Ontario Plain, much of the central part of the Region is used for general agriculture. Rock outcroppings along portions of the Lake Erie shore are an obstacle to most types of development. Industry The industrial economic base of the Region is mature and stable. Many of the industries were attracted to the area because of good transportation facilities, including the Welland Canal, and the availability of cheap hydroelectric power. These industries have exhibited low rates of employment growth in recent years. Each of the urban communities has a different industrial base. The St. Catharines-Thorold community finds the majority of its manufacturing employment in the production of automotive parts and paper products. Tourism, the manufacture of finished products, chemicals and abrasives, provides much of the employment in Niagara Falls, while Welland relies on specialty steel and steel pipe production. Port Colborne's major employer is a metal refinery. Aircraft parts are produced in Fort Erie. Many small manufacturing concerns or service industries are located in the urban communities, often providing materials or services for the major employers. All urban communities are actively soliciting new industrial and commercial ventures, and sizable industrial parks have been set aside throughout the Region. Agriculture Agriculture is an important industry in the Region. Fruit and vegetable crops, poultry, livestock, greenhouse products and general crops are large categories of agricultural production. The fruit-processing industry and the wine industry are two important secondary industries which depend on a viable agricultural industry. There are approximately 2,700 farms of various sizes and types in the Region. Past trends have been toward largerscale operations and, as a result, the number of farms has been dropping. Similarly, the total farm population in the Region has been dropping. Tourism Tourism has long been an important part of the economic base of the Region. The famed Niagara Falls is a major tourist attraction of North America and attracts millions of visitors each year. Many thousands of persons per day visit the excellent beaches, camping facilities and amusement areas along the Lake Erie shoreline. Summer cottages line Lake Erie. The Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake, and the historic atmosphere of that Loyalist Town, attract additional thousands of summer vacationers. More attractions are found at historic sites, mostly from the period of the War of The locks and channel of the Welland Canals are becoming increasingly popular. Chapter 1 1-5 Present Urban Pattern Urban development in the Niagara Region is predominantly characterized by the growth of separate and identifiable urban nodes in a linear pattern along the Q.E.W. and Welland Canal transportation corridors. There is a considerable range in populations among the individual municipalities. For example, St. Catharines, with a 1996 population of about 130,926, is the largest municipality, while Wainfleet, with a 1996 population of 6,203, is the smallest. The three largest municipalities in the Region, St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Welland, account for about two-thirds of the total Regional population. Each of the communities is old by Ontario standards, having been founded at least 150 years ago. Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort Erie owe their existence to the forts which are located there. St. Catharines started as an inland trading and milling centre. The hydroelectric capacity of the Niagara River, together with the tourist potential of the Falls , provided the impetus for the growth of the City of Niagara Falls. Welland, Thorold and Port Colborne grew in response to the building of the Canal. Grimsby began as a market town. As there were individual reasons for the establishment of the urban communities, there has been little intermunicipal activity. Daily newspapers and radio stations are based in each of the three largest cities. Each community developed its own industrial base, and individual retail areas grew within each centre. Some smaller centres have been engulfed by the development of adjacent dominant communities. Much of this took place during major annexations and amalgamations in and again in 1970 with the formation of the Regional Municipality. While the major communities remain separated today by substantial tracts of rural or semi-rural land, growth is bringing them closer together. The St. Catharines community and the urban part of the City of Thorold are geographically attached. Welland is rapidly reaching out toward the urban part of the Town of Pelham. Chapter 1 1-6 Planning Context Purpose of an Official Plan In Ontario, there is no broad consensus of opinion at either the provincial or municipal level as to what constitutes an acceptable form and content for an official plan. The Planning Act of Ontario, the most important piece of provincial planning legislation, is silent on this topic. Municipal official plans are generally comprehensive documents setting out policies for the physical, economic, and, more recently and to a lesser extent, the social development of a specific geographic area or political jurisdiction. Although comprehensiveness is an impossible ideal, the approximation of the ideal is perhaps the most important characteristic of an official plan. The official plan can establish development and conservation objectives and policies, assign priorities, establish phasing, and set out social and financial guidelines for a community. The policies in an official plan are public in that they are approved by a municipal council. The policies should represent the overall public interest and yet take into consideration the particular values and needs of the various minorities. The planning period customarily adopted for an official plan is 20 to 25 years. This time period is justified on the basis that it is short enough to develop reliable projections of the future and yet long enough to account for most forces and trends operating in the urban environment. Zoning by laws are a means of regulating the actions of individual landowners. They function as a permit to develop, and should carry out the proposals of the official plan. Some zoning by laws which indicate in advance the types of development which will be permitted appear somewhat similar to an official plan with respect to land use. Existing Local Planning Controls The Region is composed of 12 local municipalities each with the responsibility for exercising a variety of planning controls within its own political jurisdictions. The two principal planning tools are the Official Plan and the Zoning By law. Many of the 12 have up to date, approved official plans, but all those without are actively engaged in preparing such plans. There is a great variety of zoning by laws within the Region and they cover most, but not all, of the Region. Some of these are detailed, complete and up to date, but in many cases they were prepared many years ago and need revision, or are incomplete in the area covered or in content. In other cases, the uses permitted are in conflict with official plan proposals. Present and Future Planning Responsibilities Planning in the Niagara Region is influenced by the decisions of all levels of government: Federal, Provincial, Regional and Local. Each tier of government has an appropriate planning role. However, to be most effective, planning must be a co-operative and shared responsibility. The Federal Government has major responsibilities including the regulation of air traffic, the Welland Canal, railroads, trade and the protection of international boundaries. While a regional municipality has no constitutional authority for interfering in these areas, any regional plan should at least recognize areas of joint concern and facilitate cooperative action. Chapter 1 1-7 The Provincial Government has prime responsibilities for such things as: provincial highways, the protection of the environment, the provision of some public utilities, property assessment and many aspects of municipal development. The Province has become directly involved in preparing plans. One plan of interest to this Region is the Niagara Escarpment Plan. Since 1983, the Province has been preparing and issuing Policy Statements under Section 3 of the Planning Act on matters considered to be of Provincial interest. Municipalities in Ontario normally have responsibility (with some supervision from the Province) for planning, for regulating the use of land and the construction of buildings, for the provision of local roads, for the provision of a public water supply, for the collection and treatment of sewage, for fire protection and for many other services. Municipal budgets to provide these services are heavily dependent on Provincial financial assistance. The Region of Niagara has been given direct responsibility for planning, for the treatment and distribution of water, for solid waste management, for the collection and treatment of sewage, for regional roads, for health and welfare services, for police services, and for capital budgeting and borrowing. The Region's responsibilities are complete in some of the above cases and are shared with the local municipalities in other cases, such as planning, the distribution of water and the collection of sewage. A major decentralization of planning powers from the provincial to the regional governments is part of a continuing program to strengthen local government. The Regional Municipality of Niagara is responsible for: 1) the review of municipal zoning by laws and amendments (granted September 1, 1974); 2) the monitoring of Committee of Adjustment and Land Division Committee decisions (granted September 1, 1974); and 3) the approval of local official plans and official plan amendments. The approval of Amendments to the Regional Official Plan remains a Provincial responsibility. However, the Region has been exempted from the need to seek Provincial approval for Official Plan Amendments. Chapter 1 1-8 Preparation of the Regional Plan The preparation of an official plan is a difficult process. It requires a search for and evaluation of people's hopes and dreams, a choice between various priorities and objectives, the consideration of the needs of the majority versus those of minorities, the protection of our environment for future generations, and the recognition of changing values in a rapidly changing world. The preparation of this Regional Plan has involved many years of work. A series of twelve research reports and five discussion papers were produced by the Region's consultant at various intervals throughout the period of the Plan preparation. These support documents extended over a variety of topics including economic base, agriculture, land use, servicing, environments, etc. Several alternative long range development proposals were prepared and, after review, three of these concepts were selected for detailed study. These concepts were titled: 1) A Separate City Concept which emphasized the maintenance of rural separations between the major cities to help preserve identifiable communities. 2) The New Highway Corridor Concept which was based on a new major highway corridor above the Escarpment and emphasis on future development above and south of the Escarpment. 3) The Trends Concept which was based on existing trends and anticipated the development of most of the Lake Ontario Plain north of the Escarpment plus a merging together of most of the large urban communities. These three concepts were discussed at considerable length in public meetings, in meetings with representatives of local municipalities and among Regional representatives. From these discussions, there was some preference shown for Concept 2, followed by Concept 1, with the conclusion that the best features of each should be amalgamated for the preparation of the Regional Plan. A Working Draft of the Regional Official Plan was submitted by the Region's consultants to Regional Council at the end of 1972 for public distribution. A series of meetings were held in each of the twelve local municipalities to discuss the Working Draft with local councils and the public. In addition, Regional and Provincial staff held a series of liaison meetings in order to analyze the document. The briefs and comments received were reviewed by the Regional Planning and Development Committee. The majority of comments stressed the need for a more conservation and preservation oriented Plan with a clearer definition of Regional and local responsibilities. Based on these comments, extensive revisions were undertaken in the form, content and guiding philosophy of the Regional Plan. The result of this review is the Official Plan which follows. During the mid-1970s the Urban Area Boundaries were the subject of extensive review by the Region and by the Province. The Agricultural and Rural Areas Section and the Environmental Areas Section were revised in 1976 and A major OMB hearing was held in 1979 and1980 to consider the Urban Areas and revised the sections of the Official Plan. In February 1981 the OMB delivered its decision. A major review of the Plan resulted in the adoption by Regional Council in November 1991 of revised Regional Strategic Objectives, Agricultural and Rural Areas policies, and Urban Areas policies. These revised policies were modified and approved by the Minister of Municipal Affairs in December There have been numerous minor amendments to the Official Plan over the years. Chapter 1 1-9
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