Zoning revisions could hinder new elementary school

By Penny Coles, Niagara Advance

The town is expected to pass a document that controls land use across the municipality Monday-a document that will impact the battle between the town and the school board.

The comprehensive zoning bylaw is up for council approval after years of discussions, and two of the recent revisions include the zoning of the school board's property on East and West Line and the property it hopes to purchase on Niagara Stone Road for a new elementary school for Virgil and Col. Butler students.

Council has asked for the NDSS property to be zoned so that it can only be used for a school, which will limit the possibilities should the board close the high school and try to sell the property.

The Niagara Stone Road and Line 2 property, which the board is in the process of purchasing for the new 400-student school, will, if the zoning bylaw is approved as expected, be zoned for residential development only.

The school board has already filed an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board on a committee of adjustment decision not to allow a severance of the Line 2 and Niagara Stone Road property, says planning director Stephen Bedford, and an appeal of the residential zoning is also expected.

Speaking for the Friends of NDSS, Jamie King urged the planning committee to approve the revisions that would impact on school board decisions.

The zoning as suggested would require the school board "to participate in more thoughtful and engaged discussions regarding the future of elementary and secondary education" in NOTL, King said.

"Despite the fact the DSBN feels it knows enough about the character and nature of our town to unilaterally dictate where education will and will not be offered within our community, we believe that any steps this planning committee can take to ensure our community participates in this decision-making process and that our best interests are served are steps worth taking."

The school board also commented on the revisions, saying the board searched for and found a property that would keep elementary-aged students within the community of Virgil, offering them a state-of-the-art new school with ample space for a full-size soccer field and play area.

"The staff and school council members of both Col. John Butler and Virgil Public Schools are already working together to make this a seamless transition and the students are excited about their new school," said board chair Kevin Maves in a letter to the town.

The board is "extremely disappointed" by the planning committee's decision not to rezone the property to allow an elementary school, he said.

Town planning staff had recommended the rezoning because there is so little property within the urban boundary that would be big enough for a school-the site of the current Virgil school is the best location, Bedford said, but is too small for the facility that is being planned.

The board asked council to reconsider the implication of delaying the construction of the new school to give parents what they had asked for in the school accommodation review-three neighbourhood schools, one in Virgil one in St. Davids and one in the Old Town.

"While we appreciate that some residents see any delays related to the resolution of the NDSS and Virgil elementary issues as frustrating," said King, "we wholeheartedly endorse efforts to involve our town more fully and meaningfully in educational decisions that will affect our townspeople's opportunities and quality of life for generations to come."

Rick Brady, a planner representing the school board, said the new Virgil location will be within walking distance for a number of children, and urged councillors to allow the board to get moving on the construction of the new school, as recommended by the accommodation review committee, but was reminded that the town council has passed a resolution asking the school board to consider a campus concept that would include an elementary school on the Niagara District Secondary School property.

NDSS supporter Paolo Miele reminded councillors that whether a new school is built on the Line 2-Niagara Stone Road property or the NDSS property, about 77 per cent of students will be bused.

But taxpayers would be saved "$2 million plus OMB costs" if the board-owned NDSS property is used, Miele said.

The comprehensive zoning bylaw, including revisions, is expected to be discussed and voted on first by the planning committee and then by council Monday.

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