Niagara-on-the-Lake to consider MZO for development rejected by Region; motion proposed to increase councillor salaries 
Photo Illustration by Joel Wittnebel/The Pointer

Niagara-on-the-Lake to consider MZO for development rejected by Region; motion proposed to increase councillor salaries 

Niagara Democracy Watch is The Pointer’s weekly feature aimed at increasing the public’s awareness and political involvement across Niagara Region by highlighting key agenda items, motions and decisions. 


Council Meeting

Date: April 30 - 5:00 p.m. | Delegate | Full Agenda | Watch Live


N-O-T-L Council to consider support of MZO request

Less that three weeks after the Province introduced a new framework for the requesting of Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZO), the controversial process that for the most part bypasses the municipal land use planning regime, Niagara-on-the-Lake Council’s support will be sought on a 289-unit residential development on lands which are currently designated and zoned for industrial and employment uses.

At its meeting on Tuesday, April 30th, Niagara-on-the-Lake Council will hear a presentation from John Ariens, Planner, on behalf of Sleek Developments Inc.(Hummel Properties), which is hoping to redevelop four parcels of land in the community of Virgil. Three of the parcels are on Niagara Stone Road, with a fourth unaddressed parcel east of Niagara Stone Road and south of Walker Road. 

The project named “The Reservoir”, due to the presence of the Virgil Reservoir to the east, would see the 6.9 hectares of land transformed into a residential development consisting of 98 two-storey townhouse units, 26 single or semi-detached dwellings and 165 units within three, six-storey apartment buildings. Currently, other than three single detached dwellings, the land is primarily vacant, but is adjacent to agricultural and conservation lands to the south, industrial lands to the north, while residential properties and the Crossroads Public School sit to the west.

The developer has been attempting to convert the lands since 2016 from their current Employment Areas designation to allow for housing development. Most recently, in 2022 during the process to adopt a new Official Plan, the Region completed a Municipal Comprehensive Review (MCR) and denied the request for the conversion. 

The Region concluded that “the lands should be protected for employment to ensure stability and predictability for existing and future businesses in the area”.  

It is the Region’s past denial that has prompted the developer to seek approval through an MZO.  Mr. Ariens’ presentation argues—quoting a 2020 report by the Region—that the lands are not well suited for future business development. The presentation notes the lands “lack a range of parcel sizes and are isolated from access to 400 series highway”; the configuration would create “inefficient employment lands”; and there is already a surplus of employment lands in the Town.    

While the developer’s planner may argue that the lands are not ideal for employment or industrial uses, the Region’s Official Plan states the “Region and Town shall discourage any redevelopment of employment lands”. In addition, the proximity of the nearby Virgil Business Park could lead to compatibility issues with any residential development. 

The developer is proposing various mitigation measures including “the provision of residential units with carbon filtered fresh air or the placement of fresh air intakes as far as possible and facing away from the Virgil Business Park”, a noise barrier along the perimeter of the property, and warning clauses in purchases of sale.

Monday’s presentation will be the second MZO request dealt with by a Niagara municipality this month. Fort Erie Council recently rejected supporting a request that would see a parcel of land currently approved for 10 estate lots being brought into the urban boundary and developed for 150-plus dwelling units. The Council rationale for not supporting the request was largely due to the fact that the lands in question were not serviced and, therefore, not shovel ready. Municipal services are accessible to the Niagara Stone Road lands.

Between the time of the Fort Erie and Niagara-on-the-Lake requests, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs & Housing (MMAH) introduced a new framework for requesting MZOs, undoubtedly, in response to the criticism related to the opaque process. 

Ontario Yours to Protect, an collective of organizations supporting clean water, farmland, biodiversity, and healthy communities describes MZOs as an “override (of) local planning authority to approve development without expert analysis, public input, or any chance of appeal.” The Province’s Citizens Guide to Land Use Planning indicates MZOs are to be used “to protect a provincial interest or to help overcome potential barriers or delays to critical projects.” The Fort Erie staff report that predated MMAH’s announcement noted that  “there is no formal process for requesting an MZO, nor is there established criteria for approval.” 

The new framework indicates that the Ministry will consider requests for MZOs that are supported by a lower-tier municipality through a municipal council resolution. In addition, the applicant will have to provide details such as how the project meets Provincial objectives; a description of consultation with the public and engagement with Indigenous communities; a rationale for why the project needs an MZO rather than following the municipal planning process; and what “downstream approvals” such as site plan, building permits, plans of subdivision might still be required before a project can be completed— as will be the case with the Reservoir proposal.

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) described the new MZO framework as “steps toward improving transparency” but noted it fell short of the organization’s recommendations that MZOs only occur in collaboration with municipalities, in situations of extraordinary urgency, and that the process be enshrined in legislation. Niagara regional staff, in a report on last week’s Regional Council agenda, supported the criteria and structure for the use of MZOs, but called for the Province to ensure the Region is consulted on matters related to servicing, growth management, and other infrastructure matters under its jurisdiction.

A related information report from Niagara-on-the-Lake Planning staff on Tuesday’s agenda notes the applicant conducted two virtual open houses, which were attended by Planning staff.  Notice was provided to registered owners within 120 metres of the lands, in keeping with the Planning Act regulations. The developer’s planner describes there being “general public support of the project with no significant concerns raised.”

While Fort Erie Planning Staff were more explicit in their position that they were not in support of the use of the MZO, Niagara-on-the-Lake staff does not take a position on whether Council should provide a resolution in support of the applicant’s request. Staff note the proposal is “technically feasible”.

As a result, Council will have to make its decision primarily based on the arguments of the developer’s planner, who suggests the site is currently underutilized, arguing the lands have a full complement of utilities and services available and the development will contribute to the significant need for additional housing.


The presentation by the applicant’s planner can be viewed here.

The staff report can be read here.


Councillor Cheropita makes a second attempt to get councillor salaries increased.

Despite a similar effort failing during budget discussions earlier this year, Councillor Wendy Cheropita has a motion on Tuesday’s agenda requesting Niagara-on-the-Lake Councillors salaries increase to $20,000 per year.

The Town has a policy in place that ties salary increases of councillors to the lower number of a Consumer Price Index category and any negotiated wage settlement with Town staff. As a result, 2024 council salaries are set to increase 2.5 percent, meaning a salary bump from $16,208 to $16,613.

At a February budget committee Councillor Maria Mavridis put forward a motion to increase councillors’ wages by an additional 2.4 percent, for a total increase of 4.9 percent. Councillor Cheropita seconded the motion, at the time, calling it “brave” and arguing Niagara-on-the-Lake members were paid the lowest of their Niagara lower-tier council colleagues.

The additional 2.4 percent, which would have meant an increase up to $17,002 for the year, was defeated. Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa asserted that while he had no issue with a “review through a holistic process”, he could not support such a motion being brought up “on the floor of a committee budget meeting.” 

Councillor Cheropita’s motion on Tuesday goes further than the modest increase in the motion at budget time from Councillor Mavridis. She is proposing that Niagara-on-the-Lake Councillors be paid $20,000 a year, which would equal a 23.4 percent increase from their 2023 salaries. Cheropita provides rationale for the increase by listing the numerous committees Councillors sit on, attendance at charitable and community events, rising vehicle expenses and the time commitment, which is often more than the part-time hours the members are compensated for.  

The Councillor also provides a chart outlining the wages of other Niagara municipal councils, which shows Niagara-on-the-Lake elected officials as the lowest paid of their colleagues. However, an analysis by The Pointer found Wainfleet’s councillors only received $12,538.24 for their 2023 remuneration.  

The only other Niagara municipal councillors paid less than $20,000 per member in 2023 were Thorold ($16,956) and Pelham ($18,303.83), Niagara-on-the-Lake’s closest comparable municipality in size and median income.

If Cheropita’s motion is to pass and be implemented, Niagara-on-the-Lake councillors would leapfrog over their counterparts in Thorold and Pelham making them the fourth lowest paid council, which would seem appropriate for the fourth smallest municipality in Niagara. The motion indicates the financial impact of the salary increase would be $30,336.


Councillor Cheropita’s motion can be read here.


Past reporting:


Diversity Equity and Inclusion Advisory Committee

Date: April 30 - 4:00 p.m.  | Delegate | Full Agenda


The Region’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) advisory committee traditionally meets quarterly, but on Tuesday it will have its second meeting of the month to deal with unfinished business from its April 16th meeting.

The role of the committee, which had its first meeting in June 2021, includes providing suggestions for improving the Region's activities to increase diversity and inclusion; collaborating with community groups to identify opportunities for supporting diverse residents’ needs; and to work with community organizations to promote inclusion and reduce discrimination.

At the meeting two weeks ago, St. Catharines resident Gabriel Gebril delivered an presentation on anti-Palestinian racism, an accusation that has been leveled at regional councillors since the January 25th Council meeting when a proposed resolution calling for support for a ceasefire in Gaza was removed from the agenda for not relating to Niagara Region business and the concern that such a resolution would result in division within the community.

Mr. Gebril’s presentation did not address the resolution, but provided an exhaustive list of recommendations to the DEI committee to deal with anti-Palestinian racism. After his presentation, the DEI committee had a discussion on what to do next.  While some committee members wondered whether it was within the committee’s mandate, others felt the issues raised by the presentation were too important to be dismissed.

“[A] number of the specific points that Mr. Gebril mentioned are outside of our mandate, but I think that there is room for discussion around those action items about what we may be able to do as a committee,” Regional Councillor Laura Ip, the committee’s Chair, said. Councillor Ip seconded the motion that removed the January resolution from the agenda.

The only two items on Tuesday’s agenda are discussion items related to Mr. Gebril’s April 16th presentation and the committee’s terms of reference.


The DEI meeting is held virtually. To view the meeting, contact the Office of the Regional Clerk at [email protected].  The DEI meetings are not archived on the Region’s website.

Correspondence from Gabriel Gebril, resident, City of St. Catharines, respecting his delegation at the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Committee meeting held on April 16, 2024 can be read here.


Past reporting:



Email: [email protected]

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