Each candidate seeking to represent Welland at Regional Council was given the opportunity to answer these eight questions. Here are their submissions:
- Downtown strengths: The strengths of Welland’s downtown include, having City Hall and the Library located on the Main Street. With these businesses located here they would draw individuals to the main core for meetings etc. The architecture of the old buildings (the court house) can never be replaced. The draw of the market on Saturday mornings, and illuminaqua in the summer. The recreational canal and the easy access for those who wish to walk or bike the trail are readily available.
- Downtown weaknesses: The weaknesses are the empty buildings, and other buildings that do house businesses but need some paint and cleaning up. Parking is also an issue.
- One-way traffic: I would like to see two way traffic downtown. It is frustrating when coming from the west and having to go around the block to get to businesses on East Main and vice versa for businesses on Division St. I believe it would help businesses to have two way traffic. I have seen out of towners going the wrong way on East Main and then panic once they realize they are going the wrong way. Since this is my personal opinion, before any change could happen the downtown business owners need to be consulted and also open meetings for the public. There needs to be consultation with other communities who have made this change (St Catharines and others) to see what affect the change to 2 way has made. The positives and the negatives.
- Bike lanes: As far as bike lanes downtown I feel with the amount of traffic that are on those streets and the parking it would be difficult to have more designated bike lanes at this time. If we are going to support having Welland as a walkable community this would include more bike lanes. Motorists need to more aware of where bike lanes now exist and the protocol for bikes when turning left or right. Well designed bike lanes that flow through the city and are safe would certainly be an asset. There are already committees set up in the City and at the Region of those that do bike and consultation with them would be a start for increasing the amount of lanes. I would like to see more bike lanes in the neighborhoods of our schools, to support children riding to school.
- Undeveloped lands & brownfields: As has been identified these sites cast such a negative feeling for the City. I am not sure what, if any bylaws are in place for owners of these sites to remediate them and also for development. There could be financial incentives in place by the City and the Region to promote the development of the properties of course the costs for the incentives would fall on the shoulders of the taxpayer.
- Vacant buildings: I believe the City needs to put a process in place and a bylaw to deal with these empty commercial buildings. On file will be the information on the owners of these buildings, I assume are paying property tax. In consultation with the Downtown Business Association it should be determined how long a building can sit empty before a process takes place to have signage on the building For Sale or Lease with contact numbers in place. These empty buildings could create real problems if there happens to be a water main break or a gas leak so that the city should have the right to enter the facility to do any repairs necessary with the costs billed to the owners.
- Downtown parking: I found over the past few months when there has been free parking because of the bridge closure it was a great feeling not to have to pay. But I also realize it is a reduction in revenue to the City. I do believe free parking does make it much easier to go downtown, and if parking is free it may draw more people to visit the retailers in the downtown. I do not believe that the new parking on East Main is viable. I find drivers are not pulling completely into the parking area so that their cars are still partially on the street and you need to go into the other lane to get around them.
- Other: I think many people living in Welland do not realize that the recreational canal area is a community unto itself. I walk there a lot, and my grandsons fish in the canal. People always stop to chit chat on a summer day enjoying the water and the community spirit. There is always something new to discover when you are with children. Watching the rowers skim over the water very early in the morning is very soothing. I believe with Illuminaqua this year there were 5 shows. Why is this stage not opened up to bands, theatre groups and other arts and culture groups. To have the stage used on a Saturday afternoon or Sunday afternoons by local groups, would be great. Our young people in the City would have somewhere to go for entertainment. I am sure sponsorship could be found to support this so that the tickets would be affordable. This of course would attract more people to the downtown, likely for something to eat or drink. I feel very positive about Welland, that is why I chose to move here. Strong positive leadership is what is needed with input from the community of what they feel are the priorities for the city and we will move forward with development and more opportunities for employment.
- Downtown strengths: It has solid buildings, and some excellent restaurants. It has ample parking if we include the market square.The jewel of downtown is or should be the recreational canal. Let’s develop more of King Street on the canal side.
- Downtown weaknesses: I am told the tax burden on East Main street, inhibits some businesses. I would wish for residential development downtown.
- One-way traffic: I think the one-way traffic, enhances traffic flow, but I am not an urban planner. We have staff to consider that if council requests. I would not change it as it is neither a deterent nor an enabler of a vibrant downtown.
- Bike lanes: I favour bike lanes on every street with a safe solution. I would like to add bike lanes near health centres and education centres like Niagara College.
- Undeveloped lands & browfields: I would like to see rezoning for multi-unit residential even towers if the soil testing indicates it is suitable. The downtown improves with more residents who can walk to the library, the restaurants, the museum, etc. The Atlas Steel head office on the south side of east main is a candidate for residential, while the plant site on the north side is suited for new institutional or even a train station if passenger rail were adopted as a goal.
- Vacant buildings: If a property owner is paying taxes, we cannot compel them to occupy the building. We can require health and fire safety inspections to determine if they are a risk, which might prompt some property owners to take action.
- Downtown parking: Parking is already reasonably priced, and a cost for prime locations prevents downtown workers from taking all the prime visitor parking spots. The free parking at market square gives an alternative for the able bodied. We should perhaps offer more free parking in prime locations, for those with handicapped permits, but enforce the handicap bylaw very strictly.
- Other issues: I believe we should focus on King Street adjacent to the Recreational Canal, as it could be an attraction for visitors and residents alike.
- Downtown strengths: Welland’s Downtown is a compact area which can be leveraged to attract people to such an easily defined geography. The architecture of most buildings is unique and should be promoted as such. The Court House is a national treasure; Restaurant Row on East Main can also be a great asset. Market Square and the Library and City Hall are equally important to promoting the downtown experience.
- Downtown Weaknesses: There is no cohesive reason or theme to downtown. The character must be defined like any neighbourhood in any other city; for example, Hess Village in Hamilton, the Annex in Toronto, and The Glebe in Ottawa. I believe that such character for our downtown can and should happen.
- One-way traffic: Two way traffic is only one solution to the problem and should not be thought of as the final fix. Ten years ago, on behalf of the Downtown BIA, I presented the idea of two way traffic for Division and East Main Streets to Council and the engineering problem was not necessarily those two streets but that Helems and Burgar Streets are also one way designed to work with East Main and Division streets for better traffic flow. The cost of changing direction of all four roads could be prohibitive. If Region and City Staff can review again and come to a different conclusion, I would be in favour of revisiting the idea. I believe we should be looking at changes in sidewalk size, angled parking and street-scaping. The real issue is one of definition: street vs. road. We would like a street with connection to people and place and the Region views East Main and Division Streets as roads moving traffic between cities.
- Bike lanes: Bike lanes are part of the Transportation Plan for Niagara and Welland is a participant in the plan and works with the Region to expand the use of these lanes. Downtown is no exception.
- Undeveloped lands & brownfields: The City has passed two CIP programs – one on brownfields and the other for all of Downtown and King Street to Ontario Road. These programs offer incentives for development of these properties. Welland High has been re-zoned for housing and is awaiting development from the owner.
- Vacant buildings: Vacant buildings can be held to the same property standards as those buildings around then. I believe the city should be more aggressive enforcing a minimum standard particularly in the Downtown. However, the BIA could be a partner by requesting such enforcement.
- Downtown parking: Timed Free Parking could work in some areas. The current two hour experiment during the bridge closure seems to have been successful. Loading zone or pick-up zones of 15 minutes could also be used effectively.
- Other issues: Until the definition of the streets vs. road issue is confronted, the Region and Welland will be adversaries and not partners. My role will be to resolve this issue and then work with business owners and both tiers to create a better Downtown for Welland.
- Downtown strengths: The recent investments with the painting of the bridge, the new city hall, the historic court house are all things that Wellanders should be proud of. The people that love our downtown core and wish to see it thrive again are our biggest asset. Hopefully the CIP and the co-ordinated effort that will come from it with be the kick start that the downtown needs. Hopefully the attractiveness of the first two blocks will be repeated further up the street.
- Downtown weaknesses: generation that has been accustomed to big box stores and malls. We generally park the car, and want everything as convenient as possible. The parking problems, the chance of bad weather, the possibility of having to go back to the car to move it, and the rise of online shopping as lead to the decline of downtowns across North America.
- One-way traffic: I like the “normalcy” of a two way street. I believe that it does make it easier to get where you are going. The concept of a one way street seems to imply “move along” and “keep going”. the complicating factor that Welland’s downtown has the curved Division Street bridge, which complicates any efforts to make both streets two ways. I will note that East Main and Division street (for the majority of it) are Regional roads, and if East Main were made two way, Division Street might revert back to a city road, so city hall picks up the tab to repair it (not like it being a Regional Road has done it any favours). However, how the lanes on the lift bridge meet West Main Street, and how the the lanes of Niagara meet the Division Street bridge are the biggest road blocks (no pun intended). It is not just a case of switch some signs and make it two way. The Niagara Street, Division Street, and Main Streets intersection would need major work. I don’t know if there is a petition to do this or not. I would be responsive if I learned that property owners on East Main wanted this to be done. We should look into downtown St. Catharines and if making St. Paul Street two way has lead to an increase in business or traffic to their downtown core.
- Bike lanes: My thoughts are that travelling westbound on East Main after the traffic circle is a mess. I am referring to the left turning lanes and the bike lanes. It is confusing. I see car traffic getting pinched off and stitching lanes suddenly, which is not good for anyone on a bike, whether they are in a bike lane or not. I think that the bike lanes are necessary. I see many people riding their bikes, and many e-scooters using the lanes too. I am not sure if this is ok with other cyclists or if this is allowed. Bottom line is the road is wide enough, people are using them, and we should keep what we have and run them all the way down East Main.
- Undeveloped lands & brownfields: The CIP is trying to put a “sale” on development fees to interest parties coming to invest in Welland. In my platform I speak about eliminating all of the Region’s development fees to permanently to encourage investment in Welland. Business is about making money, and if a developer crunches the numbers and finds that a project will lose money, the project is dead. We need a pro business approach to help private investors to see that money can be made in Welland, and these large central parcels of land are ideal locations.
- Vacant buildings: Unfortunately private property is just that, private. The city has no power to dictate what an owner does with a property as long as the taxes are paid and there are no building code violations. We would assume that a commercial property would be used for commercial purposes, and that an owner would not want to pay taxes only to have it sit idle. However we cannot force anyone to invest money or open a business.
- Downtown parking: The mall has free parking, Wal-Mart has free parking, the downtown needs free parking too. Business owners need to encourage employees not to park in ideal spots, and leave those for customers. We do not have the problem of too many cars coming to downtown Welland, we have the problem of not enough.
- Other issues: The CIP was approved and hopefully the co-ordinated effort that it brings will be the kick start that the downtown needs. Businesses need to make money to survive, and hopefully the beautification of the core and the construction that will take place will make businesses viable and bring the revitalization that we need. The Region’s direct impact is the roads, and Division Street is in desperate need of repaving. I don’t know why it has been allowed to get as bad as it is, if there is sewer work underneath that needs doing so it needs to be dug up, but it will be one of the first things that I look into as a councillor.
These questions were posed to all of the candidates. George Marshall, Art Orlando, David Robert, and Thies Bogner did not respond.
Wednesday 8 October: Regional Council Candidate Responses
Thursday 9 October: Ward 1 Candidate Responses
Friday 10 October: Ward 2 Candidate Responses
Saturday 11 October: Ward 3 Candidate Responses
Sunday 12 October: Ward 4 Candidate Responses
Monday 13 October: Ward 5 Candidate Responses
Tuesday 14 October: Ward 6 Candidate Responses
Wednesday 15 October: Mayoral Candidate Responses