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Fort Erie Council, in reversal, votes to approve Crystal Beach condos

A controversial, 12-story Crystal Beach Gateway condominium project is moving forward in Fort Erie, Ont., after outside legal opinion Monday swayed previously critical Town Council Member Bob Steckley to switch his vote.

The legal opinion on potential liability if the town broke its contract with the Molinaro Group, the project's developer, was heard during a closed session of the Town Council that ended early Tuesday. Steckley joined Council Members Rick Shular and Stephen Passero and Mayor Paul Martin in voting, 4-3, to proceed with the project.

The vote reversed a stunning one-vote rejection of the project by the Council on Feb. 14 that appeared to seal its fate.

"I'm extremely disappointed, but I really don't know if there are any other exploratory areas to go down," said Council Member John Hill.

"I would have to say [stopping the project] is pretty much dead."

Council members are forbidden from revealing what happens in closed session.

Martin, a staunch supporter of the project, was relieved by the Council's change of course.

"I think that with all the information that was provided, a majority of members of Council thought it was in the best interest of the municipality to move forward," Martin said.

Steckley was adamantly opposed to the project through his first term of office, up until Monday's closed-door session. But he had said as late as last month that he would vote for it if he was convinced the town would be put at significant financial risk from a lawsuit.

"I didn't feel there was any option available to us that wouldn't have put the municipality at financial risk, and that wasn't something I was prepared to do," Steckley said.

"I'm still opposed to the project. Unfortunately, this current Council is dealing with a contract put in place by a previous Council, and I don't see any way of getting out of those contracts without putting the town at risk for a long and costly lawsuit."

Steckley, Hill and Martin said they hope details from the independent review could be made public in the near future.

"The residents need to understand, in the spirit of transparency, what took place," Hill said.

The Ontario Municipal Board in early February rejected 13 appeals, while allowing the Town Council to revisit the project.

With the project back on, Council Member Stephen Bassero said he hopes fellow politicians will move on despite their dug-in positions.

"The independent, legal review and end result was a very close vote, a very passionate issue, and now as a Council we must work together to ensure that we extract all the positives and mitigate all of the perceived negatives from the development," Bassero said.

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com

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