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Board upholds condo zoning change

Approval for a hotly contested 12-story condominium in Crystal Beach took a giant step forward Monday when a zoning change approved by Fort Erie's Town Council was upheld by the Ontario Municipal Board.

The 54-page decision by hearing officer Reid Rossi, who held hearings for more than a week in early November, said the zoning change was consistent with town planning policies, represented good land use planning, was compatible with the adjacent community and was in the public interest.

"The board determines that the proposed building will have very little impact on the character of the neighborhood, and for the majority of the neighborhood it will not even be visible," Rossi wrote.

Later, he added: " [T]he building is well designed and will integrate well into the community, offering a mix of land uses that support urban services and amenities, contribute to the area's 'liveability' and shape and define the public street at a human scale. This building will likely serve as a distinctive community landmark feature, offer a dramatic skyline enhancement and contribute to the image of the town overall."

Critics of the project -- who were consistently in the majority of property owners at Town Council meetings and among those who submitted written comments -- have argued the condominium is out of scale and will do irrevocable harm to the beachfront town's ambience. Many are Buffalonians who maintain summer homes in Crystal Beach.

"We are in the process of evaluating the decision for possible appeal into the Ontario court system," said Eric Gillespie, attorney for the Fort Erie Waterfront Preservation Association. The Ontario Municipal Board is an administrative tribunal, as opposed to a judicial court.

Supporters say the planned 87 upscale units will reinvigorate a community that never recovered economically after the Crystal Beach Amusement Park closed more than 20 years ago.

The zoning change was narrowly approved by a 5-4 vote in the wee hours of a March 2 meeting at the end of a 6 1/2 -hour session in the Fort Erie Municipal Centre, with Mayor Doug Martin casting the tie-breaking vote.

"I agree with the board's findings, and a new history of Crystal Beach begins with this decision," Martin said in a statement.

The Molinaro Group of Burlington, Ont., developer of the Crystal Beach Gateway project, has agreed to provide a pavilion, promenade, outdoor stage, washrooms, changing rooms and other amenities in return for the condo being built on the public beachfront property, which the town purchased in 2001 for $2 million.

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com

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