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Views diverge on what Crystal Beach needs

Nancy Smith, the lawyer for the Molinaro Group, said during her summation that Crystal Beach has been a community of contrasts for 100 years.

The contrast is evident in the witness statements of two restaurant owners. They run successful business. They are experienced real estate investors. They even occupied the same business location in the heart of Crystal Beach.

Phil Smith’s and Peter Koutroulakis’s views on the Crystal Beach Gateway Project diverge dramatically.

Smith, who is one of the principals of the Fort Erie Waterfront Preservation Association which appealed the project to the Ontario Municipal Board, said Crystal Beach is rebounding from the devastating economic blow of the closing of the amusement park.

“Crystal Beach is improving rapidly,” he said. “Tremendous growth is happening and we are on the right path.”

The closing of the park led to a deep recession in Crystal Beach and people were able to buy cottages for very little money. Many cottages have been fixed up and new pride has been growing.

The main attraction is the beach and the proposal threatens the sense of community ownership of the beach.

“The beach experience is more than just the sand. It’s the whole thing – washrooms, snack facilities, the amenities that surround it,” he said.

The business community has been rejuvenated in the past few years and they have been working hard to attract beach-goers to patronize their businesses, Smith said.

The plan for commercial space in the condominium building amounts to taxpayer subsidized competition, he said.

“A plan with more open space will have more long-term benefits than the proposal,” he said.

Koutroulakis, whose family used to own and operate a restaurant in the same building where Smith now operates his restaurant, has seen the high and lows of Crystal Beach.

Operating a restaurant since the early 1970s, he saw the seasonal boom and bust and then the terminal bust when the park closed.

All businesses need growth in the community to keep up with rising costs and thinning profit margins, he said.

Crystal Beach will never be the same when businesses can coast through the winters or even close because they did so well during the summers.

Efforts to try to get more year-round residential development should be encouraged, he said. “Building up, not out,” will not only allow more people to live in the neighbourhood, but be a highly visible entrance for visitors.

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