A suggestion to reduce the number of months that parking is restricted in the Chautauqua neighbourhood led to some heated moments between councillors at last week's Niagara-on-the-Lake council meeting.
Coun. Clare Cameron presented a motion that aimed to remove parking bans on certain streets in Chautauqua between October and April so that residents could have an easier time parking during the quieter, snowy months and the holidays.
Residents reached out to her to express their dismay at the idea, she said.
“We’ve received some very valuable feedback and I need to apologize if this motion and attempt to bring something forward into public debate has caused undue concern for the Chautauqua Residents Association in particular,” Cameron said.
“I completely acknowledge their extraordinarily strong feelings and very impressive vocabularies related to this topic,” she said.
Earlier this year, council implemented parking restrictions on most streets in Chautauqua in response to residents' concerns that the narrow laneways were being overburdened by out-of-neighbourhood traffic, prompting safety worries and making access difficult for locals.
Fines in the area can be $150 or more.
Cameron said she had recently spoken with a small group of residents of Chautauqua who were not active members of the association and had concerns about the parking rules being too restrictive during the tourist off-season.
She redacted the crux of her motion and changed it during the meeting so that, in future reports, instead of removing the parking restrictions town staff could consider “prohibiting parking on applicable streets during May 15 to Nov 15 only, or another period.”
The updated motion also directed staff to get public comments on the topic.
Cameron later said, “I think there may be some reluctance right now for people to come forward because they’re afraid to express an opinion that doesn’t go along with the what the majority believes to be the case for everybody.”
Cameron also apologized for causing a “crisis.”
But the conversation didn’t stop there.
Coun. Norm Arsenault asked chief administrator Marnie Cluckie whether there had been any movement on a request of his for town staff to look at the implementation of parking permits across town.
Cameron jumped in, after previously noting residents told her they were concerned about the possibility of paid parking permits in Chautauqua, and wanted Arsenault to clarify that this was not a "tax grab" but an idea for free visitors passes.
Arsenault responded the passes could be free or carry a fee.
During council meetings, councillors are not supposed to speak out of turn. Cameron’s interjection elicited a caution from Lord Mayor Betty Disero, who said, “I realize it’s late, and we may be getting a little silly, but you know we’re not supposed to (talk out of turn).”
A few minutes later, Coun. Wendy Cheropita asked that the motion include a line about consulting with the Friends of Ryerson Park and the Chautauqua Residents Association.
Disero and Cameron disagreed with the addition, saying the two groups would be consulted along with the public.
This prompted Coun. Gary Burroughs and Cameron to speak out of turn.
“Councillor Burroughs, Councillor Cameron, wait,” Disero said.
“We need to act like adults and follow the rules. You can’t just be blurting out comments and then covering your mouth, ‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ because that’s a smart-aleck move that’s not necessary."
“Thank you Lord Mayor for that reprimand. It’s over and above what was required for that,” Burroughs responded.
“You know, councillor Burroughs, all evening you’ve been at me, making comments and saying ‘do this, do that.’ So, I’d just like you to stop,” Disero said.
“Well, since we’re in this debate, I have written down every single item that I said tonight and I don’t recall ever being critical of you. But anyway, I’ll take that as advice,” Burroughs said.
After this brief tangent, Cluckie assured Cheropita that both community groups would be consulted.
Coun. Allan Bisback had the last word and questioned the need for a heated argument on the topic.
“There’s no action being taken here other than asking staff to make these considerations in a future report. So, I think the tempers need to come down a little bit on this one.”
Arsenault and Cheropita voted against the motion while Disero, Cameron, Bisback, Burroughs and O’Connor were in favour.
Evan Saunders, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report