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THE HOT TAKE: How one brave mayor stood up to the NIMBYs

Niagara mayors can learn a lesson or two from Newmarket, writes James Culic

The locals weren’t happy with the proposed development. It’s a story we’ve heard a thousand times. But this time was different. This time, city council soldiered on despite the vehement condemnation from the community.

“Newmarket Mayor John Taylor pushed back on criticism of the noise or traffic, plus suggestions of other locations that might be better suited,” reads an excerpt from a NewmarketToday story about the controversial project. A petition with 300 signatures of opposition was tabled. But still, council pressed on.

“There’s a lot of people coming into our communities and a lot of growth,” said the mayor during the contentious meeting last month. “We have to find a way.”

That’s right, we have to find a way. We have to find a way to get these homes built and provide places for people to live because — oh, wait a second. Hang on, we’re not talking about homes?

Oh, my mistake, this is actually a story about pickleball courts. Because apparently when it comes to building new pickleball courts, city councils will move mountains and stand up to NIMBYs and get it done. But when it comes to building new housing, city councils fold like cheap napkins and put the kibosh on any new subdivision if the community members complain.

This makes no sense. This story from Newmarket absolutely boggled my mind. If you go through it and replace the word “pickleball courts” with “housing” it reads exactly like every other NIMBY housing story you can read every week across Ontario.

Resident after resident stood up at that meeting and complained about the potential for increased traffic. They complained that there wasn’t enough consultation with the community. They complained that this wasn’t the “right” location and that it should be built somewhere else in the city. The whole thing reads like the textbook script for when a developer proposes to build a new subdivision and nearby residents voice their opposition.

Only this time, instead of acquiescing to their demands, councillors simply said, too bad, we need to build this, we need to build it here, and we need to build it right now.

“We have to find a way,” said the mayor.

Incredible stuff. Strong leadership on display. Truly doing what is right for the community by building… pickleball courts.

Now if this same level of leadership and political willpower could just transfer over to building new homes and subdivisions (rather than a silly pastime for old-timers) we’d be on our way to digging out of the housing crisis that is tightening its grip on municipalities across the province.

There is, of course, the debate on exactly how far is too far when it comes to how we want to dig out of this hole. That debate came to the front burner recently with the subject of fourplexes.

Last month, St. Catharines became one of the first municipalities in Ontario to alter their bylaws to allow fourplexes in residential neighbourhoods without having to seek a zoning bylaw amendment, thus bypassing the NIMBY consultation phase.

Was it the right move? I don’t know. I’m about as pro-housing development as you can get, and even I looked at some of the fourplex designs and thought to myself, damn, I’m not sure I would want one of those built beside me.

Some people would argue that actually makes me the very NIMBY guy who I’ve spilled so much ink railing against over the past few years.

Maybe. Maybe not. The bottom line is, you do have to draw the line somewhere, and I think maybe fourplexes are the right place to start drawing that line. If you ask me, the province did the right thing by drawing it there. If municipalities want to do it themselves, that’s fine, but provincial legislation that would override local councils by permitting fourplexes to pop up anywhere would have been the wrong call.

But if they introduced legislation to ban pickleball courts from being built within a kilometre of any residential neighbourhood, that’d have my full and unwavering support.

James Culic is an undefeated pickleball champion of Fort Erie. Find out how to yell at him at the bottom of this page, or give him a good verbal pickle paddling in a letter to the editor.


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James Culic

About the Author: James Culic

James Culic reported on Niagara news for over a decade before moving on to the private sector. He remains a columnist, however, and is happy to still be able to say as much. Email him at [email protected] or holler on X @jamesculic
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