Change in zoning for Parliament Oak site will further limit available public space in NOTL

The Niagara Foundation objects to this proposed change of use for 325 King Street – the site of the old Parliament Oak School – because it will drastically and permanently reduce the amount of land where residents (current and future) access community services, and where residents learn, experience traditions and build culture in their community. This property is identified for community use in the Official Plan, and it should remain so. At the June 25th Council meeting, this application will be on the agenda.

We object to the proposed change in land use and zoning for the following reasons:

  • There are many hotels, bed and breakfasts and vacation rentals in Old Town that support our local tourism industry — with more already approved for construction. Several areas of Niagara-on-the-Lake offer commercial land where more lodging facilities could be built, without requiring the loss of community use land.
  • 325 King Street is the second-last large piece of community use property in the Old Town area. If it is converted to General Commercial, the former hospital site on Wellington Street will be the only remaining land parcel in Old Town set aside for community use. A decision should not be made about land use at 325 King Street until the future of the former hospital site has been determined.
  • The Town has not yet completed a Parks and Recreation Master Plan. It is impossible to say that 325 King Street is not needed for parks and recreation (or for other community uses) without having a Parks and Recreation Master Plan in place.
  • Niagara-on-the-Lake is growing and includes a wide range of community and cultural organizations that need more space to exist. Council included the word ‘community’ in two pillars of the Town’s strategic plan. The proposal to change 325 King Street to General Commercial use is unnecessary, premature and undermines Council’s own strategic goals.

Presentation to Committee of the Whole planning meeting

At the June 11, 2024, Town Council Committee of the Whole meeting, Clare Cameron, director of The Niagara Foundation, was one of several delegates voicing opposition to the re-zoning of 325 King Street – the site of the old Parliament Oak School – from institutional uses to commercial uses. Following are her notes:

Hello Lord Mayor and Council. I am speaking tonight on behalf of the Niagara Foundation, a non-profit organization that promotes the history, traditions and culture of Niagara-on-the-Lake.


The traditions and culture of a community need somewhere to happen. Institutional space is often that place. The strawberry, cherry and peach festivals, Virgil Stampede and Bunny Trail, Canada Day cake event, the Ukesters, NOTL Home Show, St. Davids Carnival, Boxing Day penguin dip and Terry Fox run all exist in part because they can use public lands, or have access to community and institutional spaces. Of course these are only a few examples of all that goes on in our community in a typical year.


We object to this proposed change in land use and zoning to General Commercial because if approved as is, it will drastically and permanently reduce the amount of land where residents might experience the traditions and culture of our community.


The Niagara Foundation is not opposed to hotels or tourism on principle: both are a huge part of the heritage and culture of Niagara-on-the-Lake. We admire how many successful hotels fit very well in to the Old Town heritage district. There is a long and proud history of hotelling in Niagara.


Niagara-on-the-Lake is also growing as a community and will need more space in future to experience itself, continue traditions and create culture. A complete community needs room to exist. The Vision in your own strategic plan describes this as “a resilient, vibrant and welcoming community for all” and your strategic mission aims to help Niagara-on-the-Lake through leadership for a healthy future.


The Draft 2019 Official Plan includes a section 2.6.2 on healthy neighbourhoods, that are intended to retain schools and family supportive institutions. This section also requires development applications to identify how they will contribute to a healthy community. These sections of the draft plan are not mentioned in the staff report before you tonight.


The word “community” appears in two of the three pillars in your strategic plan. And one of your indicators of success is to provide more space for family and youth programming. By approving a loss of community and institutional use on these lands, you will be making it harder for yourselves, and any future Council, to achieve that very noble and important strategic goal.


Section 5.3 of the staff report addresses public concerns about losing institutional use and states that “Town Staff has confirmed that the lands are not required for parks and recreation purposes.” How is that possible, when the Town has not yet completed a Parks and Recreation Master Plan. And who will consider community requirements for culture building and institutional activity that exist beyond municipal parks and recreation service delivery scope?


The Niagara Foundation opposes the proposed conversion of an entire town block from community use and institutional zoning to General Commercial use. If you must go forward, we propose that you add a requirement to the recommendations before you tonight, that this application retain a portion of the site and any new buildings to provide space for community use. Section 3 of the report includes a simple list of new uses proposed for the subject lands. We would like to see one more use added to that list, to simply read “Community use.”


This could be accomplished by creating a public park on the lands, or making a meeting room or event space in any future building available and prioritized for community organizations or institutions. This kind of requirement would avoid the total surrender of institutional zoning on this block and help to preserve some space for community use as we grow. It is also a wonderful opportunity to engage with an applicant who is widely recognized for their philanthropy, and has donated significant funds to educational and health care institutions elsewhere in Niagara.


Section 3 of this report indicates that a future Site plan will be subject to approval by the Director of Community and Development Services. Given the significance of this property, its history as a school, and its unique place in our community’s identity, we feel strongly that the site plan approval process for this property should be reviewed by the Municipal Heritage Committee and approved specifically by Council.


Section 5.3 also states that the MHC did not require that the front façade of the Parliament Oak school be retained on King Street. Please note that the MHC did recommend that the applicant consider placing original bas-relief panels in a location fronting King Street. The Foundation is very supportive of retaining or commemorating some aspect of the 1948 façade in or close to its original location on King Street.

In conclusion:

  • We object to this proposed change in zoning because it will drastically and permanently reduce the amount of land where residents might learn, experience traditions and build culture in their community.
  • We request that you add a requirement to the recommendations before you tonight, that this application retain a portion of the site to provide space for community use.
  • The site plan approval process for this property should be approved specifically by Council, instead of being subject to approval by the Director of Community and Development Services.
  • We are very supportive of commemorating some aspect of the original Parliament Oak school façade in or close to its original location on King Street.

Thank you.

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