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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.

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.


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.


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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