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TUESDAY, 1 JUNE 2021 — SAVE THE DATE
14 May 2021

A public meeting and Council decision on Niagara Grandview Manor is scheduled for 4:30 PM Tuesday, the first of June. Click here for the official notice from the city. The notice invites written submissions and requests to address Council orally by Zoom at the meeting. The deadline is Monday, 31 May, but anybody who wants to make his or her voice heard should send an email to City Clerk Bill Matson or Director of Planning Alex Herlovitch as much in advance as possible.

There is no guarantee that Councillors will remember or look again at the dozens of emails sent last December and January from residents concerned about this multi-building motel in a residential neighbourhood. The reality is dressed up differently in the revised application, but it remains essentially the same: a collection of half a dozen family homes joined together for a single commercial enterprise, a motel and restaurant accommodating 50 or more guests at a time.

The original application last December sought to legalize a six-building "hybrid inn" consisting of the "main building" and five "satellite buildings."

The revised application is harder to understand. The city has made available in a Dropbox File the confusing jumble of two proposed Official Plan amendments, two proposed zoning amendments, a 120-page "Planning Justification Report" (written in 2019 in support of the earlier application), plus four submissions from the current planner and several drawings. Studying the texts of the four draft by-laws in the Dropbox File is probably the quickest way to understand what is proposed.

In the revised application, only two buildings would constitute the "hybrid inn": the inn at 5359 River Road (main building) and the house at 4465 Eastwood (satellite building). The house at 5411 River Road would be rezoned as a vacation rental. The houses at 5287 and 5401 River Road would be licensed as Bed and Breakfasts. "Plan is to be determined" for the house at 5427 River Road. The apparent objective is to carry on essentially the same business, Niagara Historic Inns, as has operated illegally since 2014. The most recent documents say little about the restaurant, but that is presumably where all the guests in all the properties would eat.

The main thing that hasn't changed is the proposal to insert into the city's Official Plan the concept of "hybrid inn," an "alternative travel accommodation that provides guest rooms and breakfast" in a residential area near tourist attractions, utilizing "existing residential structures for the operation." Click here to read the proposed by-law. If Council were to pass it, the effect would be not only to legalize this particular commercial operation in the River Road Neighbourhood, but to invite similar "hybrid inns" in Stamford, Chippawa, Drummondville, anywhere money can be made by turning homes into multi-building motels.

The proposal to spot-zone 5411 River Road as a vacation rental is of special interest to residents of the River Road Neighbourhood. The revised applicaton seeks an Official Plan Amendment that would allow vacation rentals essentially anywhere in this neighbourhood. Currently, the Official Plan allows Bed and Breakfasts and "alternative accommodations of this nature." The proposed amendment would add a sentence: "Alternative accommodation shall include a Vacation Rental Unit...." Click here to read the proposed by-law. If Council were to pass it, the effect would be to allow any detached single-family home in the entire River Road Neighbourhood to be rezoned as an owner-absent vacation rental, so long as "parking and landscaping are consistent with the surrounding residential environment."

One big problem with the revised application is that as submitted on 22 April 2021, it appears to misrepresent ownership of the main property and to lack the new owner's authorization and signature. Click here to read Ken Westhues's letter of 7 May 2021 to Director of Planning Alex Herlovitch, pointing out apparently false information in the application not only about ownership but about mortgages on the properties. After consulting the city's Legal Department, Mr. Herlovitch replied: "I wish to confirm that I am now in possession of title and mortgage information associated with Amendment file AM-2019-022. I have contacted the agent for the applicant and have asked that corrections and revisions be made to the application and to make a resubmission to this Department as soon as possible. Again, thank you for bringing this to our attention."

Three other big problems with the revised application are (a) that it does not disclose information about use of the inn as a meeting venue for which a three-storey addition was approved in 2019 and built this past winter; (b) that what Council allowed in the inn by its 2015 by-law, a maximum of 12 rentable bedrooms for tourists, has been twisted to mean a maximum of 12 suites having 24 bedrooms or even more; and (c) that a sizable area of green space in the approved site plan has been paved for parking. Click here for Ken Westhues's letter of 13 May 2021 to Director of Planning Alex Herlovitch, drawing these problems to his attention.

 

INN OPERATED WITHOUT A LICENCE 2015-2021, AFTER APPLICATION DENIED DUE TO SAFETY CONCERNS
28 March 2021

“It should be condemned for fire code violations” – this was the title of a tripadvisor review of the Courtside Inn, Stanley Ave., on 26 June 2014. Seven years later, on 25 March 2021, police and firefighters were called to a fire at the Courtside Inn. They found one person inside dead.

This is the latest grim reminder of the ever-present danger of fire in the tourist establishments of Niagara Falls. The Niagara Falls Review reported fires in the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel and the Advantage Inn Motel in 2018, at Falls Manor Resort in 2019, at the Pink Elephant Inn in 2020, and at the White Oaks Conference Resort in 2021.

Against this background, the news is startling that City Hall has allowed Niagara Grandview Manor to operate for the past five years without a licence, after its application was denied due to concerns by the city’s fire and building departments.

Until now, most of the complaints about this business have concerned its illegal expansion into the surrounding neighbourhood. Zoning allows a 12-room inn on one property, 5359 River Road. It does not allow the takeover of nearby homes, all zoned residential, for use as “satellites” of the “main building,” transforming the inn into a multi-building motel of 30+ rooms.

Information has now come to light that even the “main building” (shown above) has repeatedly failed inspections by fire and building authorities. The following email of 13 March 2021 from Niagara Falls City Clerk Bill Matson is in response to an inquiry about what kind of licence Niagara Grandview Manor has had for the past five years:

Dating back to 2015, the applicant had applied for a municipal business licence but was not granted such based on comments from our Fire and Building Departments. 

The owner of the property in question has since been advised to re-apply for a licence which will instigate new inspections.  Letters have gone out to the owner to cease and desist operation as per Councils direction.  The application for a licence has been picked up but has not yet been issued.

The city’s licencing by-law (click here) prohibits any person from operating a tourist establishment “unless he or she has a valid licence permitting him or her to do so.” The by-law says anyone doing business without a licence is liable to a fine of $25,000 or imprisonment for up to one year. From 2015 until the Council meeting of 9 February 2021, the city appears to have exempted Niagara Grandview Manor from enforcement of the licencing by-law.

Under the Ontario law for freedom of information (MFIPPA), dozens of communications pertaining to safety issues at Niagara Grandview Manor since 2015, have been obtained:

Click here for the five-page “Fire Department, Plan Examination Report,” on the inn’s proposed addition and renovations in 2015. This document was signed by Fire Captain Roger Pigeon and directed to Tammy Agnoletto, Senior Plans Examiner at the City of Niagara Falls.

Click here for an email of 3 February 2017, from Ms. Agnoletto to the owner of the inn (John Pinter), about deficiencies in the building permit application pertaining to smoke alarm, fire exits, fire separations and door ratings, emergency lighting, and similar matters. She writes, “We cannot accept changes that were recently done in phase I contrary to approved permit plans and deem it an existing situation.”

Click here for emails in April 2017, from Mr. Pigeon to Ms. Agnoletto, about concerns with the owner’s revised submission, and in July 2017, from Ms. Agnoletto to Mr. Pinter, insisting on remedy of deficiencies in the building permit application before it can be issued.

Click here for the “Unsafe Building Order” issued on 31 May 2018 by Luciano Chieca, Inspector for the City of Niagara Falls, ordering the owner of Niagara Grandview Manor to vacate occupants from two rooms immediately and to remove the newly constructed stair system, which has “missing guards, foundation and support.”

Click here for the “Order Prohibiting Occupancy” issued on 7 June 2018 by Salvatore Valeo, Chief Building Official, stating that the building at 5359 River Road “remains in an unsafe condition.”

Safety issues do not appear to have gone away. A yelp reviewer of Niagara Grandview Manor in August 2018 wrote: “There were halogen lights in the bathroom and the ceiling was melting and brown above it from the heat.  The walls were stained from the amount of heat the lights put out.  I was concerned that it was a fire hazard, so I ended up keeping them off as much as possible.”

A tripadvisor reviewer in August 2020 complained that there was not much choice for breakfast “as we were informed the fire marshal had shut down the kitchen 3 days prior to our arrival which meant no bacon, fried eggs, etc.”

If concerns for the safety of guests warranted refusal of a licence to Niagara Grandview Manor since 2015, one wonders why this inn was allowed to operate for years without a licence. From the available documentation, the city’s building and fire officials – Mr. Pigeon, Ms. Agnoletto, Mr. Chieca, Mr. Valeo – appear to have been diligent. The licence was in fact denied. Yet the inn continued to operate. By-law enforcement officials seem to have looked the other way. Part of the explanation may be what CAO Ken Todd wrote in a letter to Council in August 2019: “Due to the fact that Mr. Pinter is in active conversations with staff about re-zoning his properties, staff have focused their enforcement efforts on other problem properties.”

In any case, Mr. Pinter knows from personal experience that the risk of fire is real. According to an article by Brett Clarkson in the Niagara Falls Review (22 December 2011), the Pinter family was in process of turning a bowling alley on Ferry Street into a motel in August 2003, when the structure caught fire and burned to the ground. Then in December 2011, fire gutted a two-storey house the Pinter family was renovating on Lundy’s Lane.

 

COUNCIL DEFERS MEETING AND DECISION TO 20 APRIL 2021, REQUIRES APPLICANT TO CEASE AND DESIST
10 February 2021

More than a month in advance, the city invited residents to a public meeting of Council on Tuesday, 9 February, to decide whether to legalize the 39-room multi-building motel composed of what were formerly owner-occupied family homes. By Monday, 8 February, everything was ready (see post of 6 February below): staff report and Powerpoint presentation, 50 letters pro and con from the public, and at least a dozen residents registered to speak.

Then 24 hours before the meeting was to begin, the applicant's request for deferral was published with all the other documents on Council's agenda. Generally, such a request is made when the applicant thinks the odds are low that Council will approve the rezoning application. More often than not, the applicant's request for deferral is approved.

There is no way of knowing how many phone calls and emails individual Councillors received on this issue Monday night and Tuesday morning. Undoubtedly quite a few. Here are two emails that went to all Councillors on Tuesday. These should have been included in Council's agenda with the other letters, but time may have been too short.

11:00 AM — Ken Westhues, recommendation to Council on the deferral request.

12:09 PM — Linda Manson, recommendation to Council on the deferral request.

As soon as Mayor Diodati introduced this agenda item, three councillors waved their hands: first Chris Dabrowski, moments later Carolynn Ioannoni, then Mike Strange. Mr. Diodati called first on Mr. Strange, who moved to defer the matter until April.

Then the mayor called on Chris Dabrowski, who attached a rider to the motion, a "friendly amendment," that the applicant be told to "cease and desist" using for tourist accommodation the five "satellite" houses that are zoned residential. This means that Niagara Grandview Manor would henceforth be restricted to the one property, 5359 River Road, that is zoned for tourist accommodation.

The city's procedural by-law does not allow debate of a motion to defer. Mr. Diodati promptly called the vote. Vince Kerrio, who owns two hotels in the city, declared a conflict of interest and abstained. Five Councillors voted in favour of deferral to 20 April 2021, with cease and desist in the meanwhile: Mike Strange, Chris Dabrowski, Wayne Thomson, Vic Pietrangelo, and Carolynn Ioannoni. Two Councillors voted against, preferring to hold the long-scheduled public meeting now: Lori Lococo and Wayne Campbell.

The Mayor declared that the motion passed. This agenda item had taken just over three minutes, as long as it takes to boil an egg.

Controversial River Road inn proposal deferred — detailed report by Ray Spiteri in the Niagara Falls Review, 10 February 2021.


PLANNING DEPT RECOMMENDS AGAINST FOUR OF FIVE PROPOSED SATELLITES, PUBLIC MEETING 9 FEBRUARY
6 February 2021 (updated to 10 February)

On Thursday, 4 February, the Planning Department of the City of Niagara Falls released its recommendations to Council on the application to rezone six properties as a 39-room "Hybrid Inn." The two main points of the 14-page report are:

  1. The existing 12-room inn at 5359 River Road should be permitted to annex the dwelling at 4465 Eastwood Crescent, giving the inn a total of 16 rooms;
  2. The requested rezoning of four other properties — at 5287, 5401, 5411, and 5427 River Road — as "satellites" of the 12-room inn should not be approved, meaning these four homes should continue to be restricted to residential, not commercial use.

Click here to read the full report, with background and analysis in terms of provincial, regional, and municipal planning policies.

Fifty public comments

In seven separate files published with the report are about 50 comments, roughly half in favour and half opposed to the rezoning. The contrast is huge between the comments for and against, in both substance and style of argument. The contrast extends even to the architecture of the enlarged inn, which is variously described as a "monstrosity," an "out-of-place colossus," and a "magnficent boutique inn."

Click here for the first file of comments in favour, with contributions from Kannan Krishna, Lorenzo Damico, Alfred D'Souza, Csaba Balog, Don Herman, Peter Tslaros, Rick Gage, Rupel Dadrawala, Samantha Baker, Baijumon George, and John Pinter.

Click here for the second file of comments in favour, with contributions from David Tetrault, Shadi Aghaei, John Pinter, Susan Wall, John McKinnon, Helena Harrington, Andrea Wood, Kannan Krishna, Marilyn Vann, Paul Liscumb, Peter Zabor, Brendt Sahs, and Richard and Sandra LeRose.

Click here for the third file of comments in favour, a contribution from Stephanie Harris.

Click here for the first file of comments in opposition, with contributions from Heather Gifford, Ken and Janice Crossman, A. Diman Lolov, Billy Perryman, Cath Gray, Mark Hughes, Susie Ong, Kenneth and Anne Westhues, and Veronica V.

Click here for the second file of comments in opposition, with contributions from Heather Gifford, John Garrett, Veronica V, OMB Decision PL120425, Tom Monaghan, Cindy Fisher, Allison Fisher, Say Lor Lee, Lorna Anstruther, and Ron Hunter.

Click here for the third file of comments in opposition, with contributions from Robert Wilson, Ross Smith, Juliana Pasetto, and Catharine Gray.

Click here for the fourth file of comments in opposition, with contributions from Linda Babb, Robert Reed, Carla Rienzo, and Mari-Lynne Eastland.

Read more

To read the Planning Department's intended Powerpoint presentation for the public meeting and all documents provided to Council beforehand, scroll through the agenda to Item 7.1.

Included in the first file of comments against the applications is a detailed analysis of the proposal in terms of the theory and practice of land-use planning in Ontario. Authors are Ken and Anne Westhues. To read this document in a clearer format, with links to referenced websites, policies, and tribunal decisions, click here.

On 5 February 2021, The Niagara Falls Review published an accurate summary of the staff report under the headline, "Controversial River Road inn proposal going before Niagara Falls council." Click here to read it on the newspaper's website.

 

DO YOU KNOW WHAT SPOT ZONING IS? THE CURRENT PROPOSAL IS A TEXTBOOK CASE
12 January 2021

Twelve signs were placed in the River Road Neighbourhood on 7 January, two at each of the six scattered properties John Pinter wants rezoned for his 39-room motel. The signs are a chilling omen of the prospective destruction of a century-old residential neighbourhood.

The proposal that comes before City Council on Tuesday, 9 February 2021 (see below), is for a textbook case, an extreme example of “spot zoning”: zoning one or several properties in a way that conflicts with zoning of the surrounding area and the city’s master plan. As a “benefit to the particular property owner, to the detriment of a general land use plan or public goals,” spot zoning provides “unjustified special treatment that benefits a particular owner, while undermining the pre-existing rights and uses of adjacent property owners” (for the Wikipedia article, click here).

In the case at hand, the proposed zoning is at odds with current zoning and the city’s master plan for the River Road Neighbourhood, since it would allow a commercial enterprise in an area where the Official Plan says (Section 4.2.38, click here), "No commercial uses shall be permitted." It benefits a particular property owner, John Pinter, to the detriment of public goals, giving him unjustified special treatment while undermining the pre-existing rights of adjacent and nearby homeowners and long-term tenants — repeating the favouritism shown toward Mr. Pinter at the Council meeting of 10 September 2019 (click here).

One of the properties in the current proposal, 5401 River Road, was the subject of a proposal for spot zoning as cottage rental in 2012. Neighbours objected strongly. The then owners, David and Alex Hagerman, withdrew the proposal after the Ontario Municipal Board issued its decision in Veronica V. versus City of Niagara Falls (click here), a similar case of proposed spot zoning for cottage rental. In that decision, the Board wrote:

This “spot zoning” of residential neighbourhoods is tantamount to piecemeal planning and does not present itself as an entirely seamless or efficient means of permitting the use let alone regulating it. And, as the Board has seen in the circumstances of this particular case, this approach has raised voices of opposition by virtue of the impacts this practice can have on adjacent residential properties. While not impacting the character of a neighbourhood per se, spot zoning of this type is shown in this case to create unacceptable impacts on adjacent properties.

The OMB ruled in appellant Veronica V.'s favour, overturning the decision by Niagara Falls City Council to spot zone as cottage rental the home adjacent to hers.

The current applications assert repeatedly that the proposed “Hybrid Inn” “maintains the existing residential character of this portion of River Road” (PJR, p. 18), but they offer no evidence except that single-family homes would now be put to commercial use.

No unbiased observer, let alone an expert planner, could study this proposal and conclude that the multi-building motel would not have a detrimental impact on the residential character of the area. What defines a neighbourhood is neighbours: people who live there, get to know each other, look out for each other, keep an eye out for hazards and dangers. A residential neighbourhood is not just houses that look like people live in them, it is houses where people actually live, forming bonds of community.

If the applications were approved, the home at 5419 River Road (built in 1905, owner-occupied for the past 115 years) would have seven motel rooms in the house directly south and eight motel rooms in the two houses directly north, houses where people lived long-term until John Pinter incorporated these properties into his inn. No principle of good planning in Ontario or anywhere else allows for spot zoning that results in a commercial enterprise operating on both sides of a private, owner-occupied home.

The Zoning By-law (Section 4.24, click here) of the City of Niagara Falls is unequivocal: "Notwithstanding any other provision of this By-law, no person shall convert any dwelling to a motel.”

 

PUBLIC MEETING AND DECISION BY CITY COUNCIL TO TAKE PLACE AT 4:30 PM, TUESDAY, 9 FEBRUARY 2021
10 January 2021

After four years of complaint by residents, the dispute over the illegal expansion of Niagara Grandview Manor into nearby homes is at long last coming to a head. The 12-room inn at 5359 River Road (shown above) is legal. Its takeover of five additional properties in this residential neighborhood is not. The incorporation of these homes into the inn as "satellites," thereby increasing the number of rooms to 39, is contrary to law. It is also a major step toward commercializing the whole area, driving residents away.

In late October 2020, owner John Pinter submitted formal applications to change the Official Plan and Zoning By-law so as to make the law conform to the business he has been operating illegally since 2015. In accordance with Ontario's Planning Act, the city hosted a "virtual open house" on these applications on 16 December (see below). Nobody but Mr. Pinter and the planners he has hired spoke in support of his operation.

Click here for the city's public invitation to take part in a virtual public meeting at 4:30 PM on Tuesday, 9 February 2021, at the conclusion of which City Council will make a decision on the applications.

Written comments on the applications should be emailed to Alex Herlovitch, Director of Planning, on or before 8 February 2021.

Anyone wishing to address Council at the virtual public meeting must preregister by email to Bill Matson, City Clerk, before 4:30 PM on 8 February 2021. Mr. Matson will respond with clear instructions about how to connect to the virtual meeting by phone, tablet, or computer.

The meeting will, of course, be public, and can be viewed on tablet, computer, cellphone or smart TV by connecting to the city's website

According to the notice, the city's Planning Department will make public its report and recommendation to Council on the applications by 4:00 PM on Thursday, 4 February 2021. To read this document when it becomes publicly available, go to the Planning Department's website.

The city has posted signs at each of the six properties to which the rezoning applications pertain. The public meeting has also been announced in the Niagara Falls Review.

The notice from the city gives the impression that the proposed changes to the city's Official Plan apply only to Niagara Grandview Manor and its five "satellite" properties. In fact, the proposal goes farther, suggesting that the "Hybrid-Inn Model" can be applied to other residential areas of the city near tourist attractions. The proposed Official Plan Amendment holds out the possibility of similar "Hybrid Inns" in neighbourhoods like those west of Fallsview, along Culp and Peer Streets in Drummondville, near Cummington Square in Chippawa, and close to the Hydro Canal and Millennium Trail.

 

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE VIRTUAL OPEN HOUSE ON THE
PROPOSAL TO LEGALIZE THE 6-BUILDING MOTEL

16 December 2020

Andrew Bryce of the city’s Planning Department chaired the Zoom meeting on John Pinter’s applications to amend the city’s Official Plan and Zoning By-law, so as to legalize the business he has operated illegally for the past half dozen years. Twenty-six people were in attendance: Mr. Pinter, his agents Heather Sewell and Dianne Ramos from Niagara Planning Group, Alfred D’Souza (owner of one of the homes Mr. Pinter has leased for his business), Councillors Carolynn Ioannoni and Wayne Thomson, home-owners living near the business, and other concerned citizens.

To begin the meeting, Mr. Bryce summarized the proposal, essentially a “main building” with 12 guest rooms, a dining room, and other amenities, plus five “satellite buildings” (what used to be family homes, all currently zoned residential) comprising a further 27 guest rooms.

Then Ms. Ramos presented a rationale for this tourist establishment. She did not call it a motel or hotel, instead a “Hybrid Inn.” She did not say what the inn is a hybrid of. She described it as a very good thing not just in the River Road Neighbourhood but in other neighbourhoods near tourist attractions.

Ms. Ramos said the Hybrid Inn is not a commercial use of the six properties, that it is a residential use. One resident asked how this could be, since the properties are all part of the business of selling temporary accommodation to tourists and travellers. Another resident, unsure that he had heard Ms. Ramos correctly, asked her to repeat what she said. She did so, stating again that Mr. Pinter’s tourist establishment is a residential use of the six properties and that it is not a commercial use. She invited Mr. Pinter to explain further. Mr. Pinter agreed with Ms. Ramos, but said nobody would actually reside in the satellite buildings.

Homeowners living in the midst of the multi-building motel raised one concern after another about the disruption to the neighbourhood Mr. Pinter’s business has caused: issues of parking and pedestrian safety, excessive traffic, guests’ cars blocking River Lane, garbage strewn about attracting rodents and skunks, rat poison left where dogs being walked by their owners might eat it, rudeness of Mr. Pinter and his staff toward neighbours, and so on.

In concluding the Zoom meeting, Mr. Bryce said the city’s Planning Department would take what was said into consideration as it prepares its recommendation to City Council on whether or not to approve Mr. Pinter’s proposal to change the Official Plan and Zoning By-law. He said the matter would likely come before City Council in February. A Council meeting is scheduled for 9 February 2021, Any citizen is permitted to address Council on the matter before the vote.

Mr. Bryce asked at the start if anyone objected to the meeting being videotaped. No one objected. To review the tape, or to provide further input into the city’s consultative process, email Mr. Bryce or Director of Planning Alex Herlovitch.

 

MORE INFO ON THE APPLICATIONS TO LEGALIZE
THE NIAGARA GRANDVIEW MANOR BUSINESS

9 December 2020

The city has invited public comments by 16 December on John Pinter's rezoning and Official Plan Amendment applications. Click here for the official notice from Director of Planning Alex Herlovitch.

The proposal amounts to quite a lot more than what is in the official notice. Perhaps most important, the proposed Official Plan Amendment would allow "satellites" within a 200-metre radius of the inn. The five dwellings currently proposed for rezoning to commercial use might be only the beginning. Additional dwellings could be proposed later for rezoning as "satellites." The current proposed total of 39 guest rooms in the six buildings could be increased to 50 or 60 or 70 guest rooms. The proposed Official Plan Amendment sets no limit. The area affected is shown on the following map.


Mr. Pinter appears to be planning an even larger commercial presence in this residential neighbourhood than he (illegally) has now. For well over a year, Mr. Pinter's website for his overall enterprise, Niagara Historic Inns, has shown Eastwwood Crescent as renamed to "Niagara Grandview Manor Crescent." The city informed Mr. Pinter in September 2019 that this name is erroneous, but the website remains as before.

It is hard to overstate the magnitude of change, from residential to commercial, proposed in the current applications. The city's Official Plan states unequivocally in Paragraph 4.2.38: "No commercial uses shall be permitted in the River Road Satellite District."

Click here for documentation on the rezoning and Official Plan Amendment applications in the city's dropbox file. Read especially the "Planning Justification Reports" of 2019 and 2020, which include the exact by-laws Mr. Pinter wants City Council to pass. If you have trouble opening the link or need further information, the city's official notice directs you to contact planner Andrew Bryce by email at [email protected] or by telephone between 8:30 AM and 4:30 PM at 905-356-7521, ext. 4232.

 

APPLICATION TO LEGALIZE JOHN PINTER'S MOTEL
4 December 2020

Alex Herlovitch, Director of Planning for the City of Niagara Falls, has circulated notice of an application by John Pinter, owner of Niagara Grandview Manor at 5359 River Road, to amend the city's Official Plan and rezone five nearby homes for a purely commercial use, as extensions of the manor, giving it a total of 39 rooms. The application would legalize in this residential neighbourhood the business Mr. Pinter has been illegally operating for the past four years, a multi-building motel plus a restaurant serving meals to guests.

The notice invites public input. It says a "remote electronic open house" on this proposal will take place at 5:00 PM on Wednesday, 16 December 2020. Written input can be submitted by email to [email protected] or by post to Mr. Herlovitch at City Hall, 4310 Queen St. Niagara Falls, Ontario L2E6X5. To participate in person in the open house, pre-register by email to [email protected]

The three-page notice provides details of the application and includes the following map of the legal inn at the corner of Eastwood Crescent and River Road, plus the five "satellite" properties proposed to be rezoned as part of the inn.

Click HERE to read the three-page "Notice of Application and Remote Electronic Open House," with instructions for how to give input.

At the City Council meeting of 10 September 2019, Mr. Pinter said he was almost ready to submit the rezoning application. Council set a deadline of 30 September 2019 for him to do so, suggesting that if he did not, existing by-laws would be enforced and he would have to restrict his business to the one property zoned for it, the inn at the corner of Eastwood and River Road.

As things turned out, the city let Mr. Pinter continue to operate his business in the satellite properties for more than a year after the deadline passed. It is now more than four years that the city has permitted Mr. Pinter to run this multi-building motel in a residential neighbourhood, over the repeated vigorous objections of people who live here.

See the sections below and follow the links for further information about efforts since May 2017 to limit Mr. Pinter's purely commercial operation to twelve rooms on one property, as provided in the relevant by-law.

 

FAVOURITISM TOWARD NIAGARA GRANDVIEW MANOR
24 September 2019

It's not every day that a municipal council votes not to enforce its own by-law. In the case at hand, it is a by-law that pertains to just one property-owner, John Pinter, and it was passed at his request in 2015. Why Niagara Falls City Council would exempt Mr. Pinter from enforcement of the by-law he himself asked Council to pass is unclear. The preferential treatment itself is exposed in the following two commentaries on the Council meeting of 10 September 2019.

Click HERE for Say Lor Lee's letter to the Mayor and Councillors that same night: "If this is not favouritism, I don't know what is."

Click HERE for Ken Westhues's analysis of nine ways in which the Council meeting showed favouritism toward Niagara Grandview Manor and furthered the commercialization by stealth of the River Road Neighbourhood: mistitling the agenda item, mixing up words, giving one side of the dispute 43 minutes as compared to 5 for the other, staff experts ducking questions, CAO providing false information, displacement of law and policy by offhand opinions, the vote against enforcement, the vote requiring Mr. Pinter to do what he plans to do anyway, and omitting this matter from public report.


COUNCIL VOTES NOT TO ENFORCE BY-LAW
12 September 2019

At its meeting on Tuesday, 10 September, Niagara Falls City Council voted down a motion to enforce By-law 2015-51, which limits Niagara Grandview Manor to 12 rooms at one location, 5359 River Road, and excludes serving meals to anyone lodged elsewhere.

Ken Westhues gave a 5-minute presentation asking Council to enforce the by-law, presenting a petitiion making this request signed by 34 residents.

Click here for the Westhues presentation with PowerPoint slides.

Then John Pinter, owner of the properties at issue, gave a 5-minute presentation. Then came 40 minutes of intense discussion and debate among Councillors, Mr. Pinter, CAO Ken Todd, and Director of Planning Alex Herlovitch.

Click here to watch the video of the meeting; the Westhues presentation begins at 1:10 and debate continues to 1:58.

Councillor Wayne Campbell made a motion to enforce the by-law, arguing for it forcefully and at length. Councillor Lori Lococo seconded the motion. Other Councillors spoke against the motion or equivocated. Mayor Diodati allowed Mr. Pinter to question Councillor Campbell aggressively.

In the end, only Councillors Campbell and Lococo voted for the motion. Councillors Kerrio, Dabrowski, Thomson, Strange, and Pietrangelo voted against. Councillor Ioannoni was absent, on account of a death in her family.

Councillor Kerrio then observed, "It's a tough situation but we can't do nothing. Technically, he's running an operation that doesn't meet the by-law." Councillor Kerrio then moved that Mr. Pinter be required to submit to the city by 30 September an application to rezone his residential properties so that his commercial use of them will become legal. Mr. Pinter had already indicated his intention to do this, explaining that he had already spent $35,000 toward preparing the application.

Councillors Thomson, Strange, and Pietrangelo voted for the Kerrio-Dabrowski motion. It therefore passed 5 to 2, with Councillors Campbell and Lococo opposed. Mr. Pinter expressed satisfaction with this resolution of the matter.

I plan to publish here, within the next few days, a more detailed analysis of the meeting, which deserves attention for the extraordinary preferential treatment accorded to Mr. Pinter. Municipalities are sometimes lax in enforcing by-laws, but rarely does a Council formally vote against enforcement after years of complaint by residents adversely affected. Attention here is warranted especially because the city skipped this contentious issue altogether in its detailed email on the Council meeting sent to its subscriber list, and because the Niagara Falls Review has published stories only on uncontentious matters discussed at the meeting.


WESTHUES, PINTER TO ADDRESS COUNCIL

6 September 2019

The city has granted Ken Westhues's request to address Council at its meeting at 5:00 PM on Tuesday, 10 September, to ask that it enforce By-law 2015-51, which limits Niagara Grandview Manor to 12 rooms at one location, 5359 River Road, and excludes serving meals to anyone lodged elsewhere. According to the online agenda, John Pinter, owner of Niagara Grandview Manor, will also address Council, presumably to argue against enforcement of the by-law.


CITY CAO DEFENDS ILLEGAL BUSINESS

1 September 2019

Ken Todd, the Chief Administrative Officer of the City of Niagara Falls, circulated an email on 27 August, defending the city's exemption of Niagara Grandview Manor, owned by John Pinter, from by-law enforcement. Mr. Todd said that Gerald Spencer and his By-law Enforcement staff "have focused their enforcement efforts on other problem properties" because "Mr. Pinter is in active conversations with staff about re-zoning his properties." In other words, city staff are letting this one lawbreaker off the hook because he is proposing new by-laws that would legalize the illegal business he has been running for the past three years.

Click here for the full text of Mr. Todd's email.

Neighbours have been pleading for by-law enforcement since May 2017. What prompted the CAO's email was a request by Ken Westhues (host of this website) to address Council at its meeting on 10 September, to ask that it direct Mr. Todd to enforce the relevant by-laws, just as it does on other businesses operating illegally. Mr. Todd did not dispute the illegality of Mr. Pinter's commercial enterprise, but argued that it would be premature for neighbours to ask Council for by-law enforcement, that Mr. Pinter should be given more time to try to have the by-laws changed.

On 28 August, in response to Mr. Todd, I reaffirmed my request to address Council on 10 September. That a lawbreaker wants to change the law does not warrant giving the lawbreaker preferential treatment, certainly not when the violations have been going on for at least three years and when residents impacted by the by-law violations have been complaining to the city for more than two years.

Click here for the Westhues response to Mr. Todd's email.

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Bookmark this page and check back to see what, if anything, happens at the Council meeting of 10 September. Whether or not Council will discuss this issue or allow any resident to make even a brief presentation is not yet known as the month of September begins.

How John Pinter created his motel and restaurant

The photo above shows the property at the centre of concern. Located on a double lot at the northwest corner of Eastwood Crescent and River Road, it was built in 1891 as a large single-family home. In 2001, City Council approved an addition to the building, so that the owner could operate an 8-room bed and breakfast. In 2015, City Council approved further enlargement, allowing the building to become a 12-room inn. Serving meals to guests would be allowed. The owner, John Pinter, would not have to live there. This would be a purely commercial property.

Click here for the full text of By-law 2015-51.

Neighbours made few if any objections to this rezoning. A 12-room inn is not that different from an 8-room B&B. Mr. Pinter professed, moreover, a genuine interest in history. He showed sketches of an addition to the building coherent with its heritage architecture. He seemed ready to invest not just money but pride in this project of renovation and restoration.

If Mr. Pinter had restricted the business of his inn to the one property zoned for this purpose, the building shown above at 5359 River Road, we neighbours would not have had reason to complain. He would have been in compliance with By-law 2015-51.

Instead, by lease or purchase, Mr. Pinter acquired control of at least six additional properties nearby, all zoned residential, and one by one, incorporated them into his commercial enterprise. First quietly and then openly, he transformed his legal 12-room inn into an illegal 25- or 30-room motel, complete with a restaurant in the main building for all his guests, regardless of which building they were staying in.

Mr. Pinter advertised his business heavily online and under different and sometimes confusing names: inn, lodge, bed and breakfast, vacation rental, annex. Each property looked like a separate business when advertised with its distinctive name: Niagara Classic Inn, Eastwood Tourist Lodge, Niagara Gorgeview Inn, and so on. In practice, all the properties became part of the same enterprise. All guests checked in and had a complimentary breakfast at the "hub" or "main building." The multi-building nature of the enterprise is publicly described on the website of Niagara Grandview Manor. The reservations website, hotels.com, says the inn has 22 rooms. A reviewer on booking.com writes, "We had a a three-bedroom cottage just off-site, and came to the main building daily for breakfast..." The entry for Niagara Historic Inns on airbnb boasts that this establishment can accommodate 65 guests in "a total of 6 buildings which are all virtually adjacent to the main hub." These descriptions of the reality stand in sharp contrast to what the by-law allows: one 12-room inn.

The formal complaints of May 2017

It took residents many months to realize what was going on. As in most neighbourhoods, householders along River Road are busy with their own lives, tolerant of differences, forgiving of minor infractions, and reluctant to meddle. For me, the penny dropped in the spring of 2017, when long-term tenants in the house next door, two young guys we had enjoyed having as neighbours, told us the landlord had encouraged them to leave. Soon after they moved out, Mr. Pinter began lodging guests in the house, having named it "Niagara Riverview Inn." A different car was in the driveway almost every night and we could see guests heading to Niagara Grandview for breakfast each morning.

At that point, Anne and I contacted neighbours, and discovered that most of them shared our displeasure at living in the midst of an illegal motel and restaurant. Seven neighbours wrote separate letters of complaint to the city, which Councillor Kim Craitor hand-delivered to Alex Herlovitch, the Director of Planning and Development, along with our own letter, which I copied to Mayor Diodati and the members of Council.

Click here, Westhues initial letter of complaint to the city

Mr. Pinter responded angrily, citing the policies he would like the city to introduce for our neighbourhood, and justifying his business in light of those policies. His letter argued that commercialization of the River Road Neighbourhood is desirable, indeed inevitable, that it "gives an economic purpose to the very residents who currently reside in the area and to those who wish to pursue a dream of owning a Bed and Breakfast or Vacation Rental." I then wrote a further email to Mr. Herlovitch, clarifying that our complaint was based on current by-laws, not policies that might be enacted in the future,. I clarified also that we objected not to Mr. Pinter's legal inn, but only to his illegal expansion of the inn to properties zoned residential.

Click here for John Pinter's response to our complaint,

And here for my clarification in response to Mr. Pinter.

In the 28 months since the formal complaints were first filed about the illegal expansion of Niagara Grandview Manor onto properties zoned residential, the city has not stopped his illegal use of these properties. Mr. Pinter has continued to lodge guests in them as before. He has purchased a further single-family home at 5427 River Road, intending to expand his enterprise further. He has turned the backyard of 5411 River Road into a parking lot for his employees. Meanwhile, renovations at his legal inn, Niagara Grandview Manor, have dragged on, resulting in complaints from guests of construction, bugs, shabbiness, mould and mustiness (click here for reviews on tripadvisor).

A telling event occurred in early 2018. Niagara Grandview Manor, along with two or three of the associated properties, was advertised for sale. No sale took place, but the fact that Mr. Pinter put them on the market in an unfinished state underscored the commercial nature of his investment in this neighbourhood. I was wrong in 2014, when I thought that even though he lives elsewhere in the city, he was personally in love with this historic district and eager to enhance it. Or perhaps his intentions changed over time. By now, so it seems, his agenda is simply to assemble residential properties, rezone them for commercial use, and then sell them as a package for a profit. No one should be surprised. Entrepreneurs and speculators pursue this agenda in cities all around the world.

To judge from his email of 27 August, the municipal administration supports Mr. Pinter's agenda. Mr. Todd says city staff have told Mr. Pinter "what needed to be done to bring the properties into compliance," but this contradicts what the rest of his email says. In urban planning, to bring into compliance means to make changes in a property so that it conforms to relevant by-laws. What Mr. Todd describes is the other way around, a plan to change the by-laws so that they conform to how Mr. Pinter has been allowed to use his property illegally for the past three years.

The map below shows what the problem is and why residents of the River Road Neighbourhood have mobilized. Would any reader of this webpage want to live in the middle of or across the street from the Grandview Manor properties? A residential neighbourhood is defined by residents who are each other's neighbours. A multi-building motel has no place in it. Little by little, it will drive some residents away, then expand to a few more houses and drive more residents away. Soon enough, there will be no more neighbourhood. Mr. Todd's email seems to imply that because Mr. Pinter's motel is managed reasonably well (noisy parties, for instance, are disallowed, and garbage is only occasionally strewn about), neighbours are churlish if they complain. On the contrary, it is altogether reasonable to ask the city to enforce by-laws that protect the neighbourhood from commercial interests bent on destroying it.

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