2013-2014 Annual Report

Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital Français

Greenspace Watch

Annual Report

May 2013 – April 2014

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The Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital remains a leading advocate of greenspace preservation and expansion in the National Capital area. This year we undertook a number of activities, continuing the trend of the last several years to engage more “upstream”, on policy matters than on specific development proposals. Once again much attention went to the City of Ottawa, which concluded its 5-year review of the Official Plan. Other recipients of our briefs included the Canada Lands Company and various Ministries of the Province of Ontario. The National Capital Commission remains implicated in several ways. A theme running through several of our actions is the continuing deterioration of public engagement and transparency of decision making, especially on the part of the City of Ottawa.

Members of the Board in 2013-14 were: Erwin Dreessen (Co-Chair and Treasurer), Nicole DesRoches (Co-Chair), Elina Elnione (Secretary), Amy Kempster, Sol Shuster, Jason Kania, and Juan Pedro Unger.

Main Activities

Connectivity Forum

Panel discussion on natural linkages (eco-corridors) in and around Ottawa was held on Saturday morning, June 8, 2013, at the Hintonburg Community Centre. Brought together were Prof. Emer. Gray Merriam, landscape ecologist; Dr. Gary Bell, program manager for Eastern Ontario at the Nature Conservancy of Canada; François Cyr, senior manager of the Greenbelt at the National Capital Commission; Dr. Nick Stow, senior land use and natural systems planner at the City of Ottawa; and Dr. Erwin Dreessen, co-chair of the Alliance. Iola Price welcomed all and served as moderator. Prof. Merriam pointed to the complexity of the issue and the need to be clear about objectives: amenities for humans, or sustaining ecological systems. Gary Bell reported on the status of the Conservation Plan for the Ottawa Valley and François Cyr explained how linkages between core areas were recognized in the Greenbelt Master Plan. Nick Stow provided an overview and results of the City’s landscape linkage analysis. Erwin Dreessen reviewed Ontario’s policy framework on natural linkages. In conclusion, Prof. Merriam stressed that Ottawa must look beyond its borders for its own natural areas to be viable. A dozen questions from the audience rounded out the morning.

Ottawa Official Plan review

The City’s landscape linkage analysis came about as part of a settlement between the Alliance and the City in the previous round of the Official Plan review. As a result of this analysis, in the 2013 round certain additions were made to the L Schedules which depict key potential components of Ottawa’s Natural Heritage System; land marked on the Schedules triggers a requirement for an Environmental Impact Statement when development in or near it is proposed. Unfortunately, the linkages remain invisible on the Schedules.

Another major advance in the 2013 round of the Official Plan review was that new country lot subdivisions are finally prohibited — a prohibition first proposed by staff as far back as 2003. This achievement was marred, however, by a last-minute concession to Thomas Cavanagh Construction Limited that will allow two more subdivisions (on land chock-full of natural heritage features) comprising about 200 houses. (About 2800 units are in some state of approval and may still be built)

The revisions to the Official Plan, approved by Council on November 26, were then sent for review by the Ministry which, through a notice on the Environmental Bill of Rights web site and informal correspondence, invited comments from the public. The Alliance expressed its concerns to the Ministry about the last-minute deal on country lot subdivisions and the way the landscape linkage analysis was implemented in the Plan.

Despite the fast pace of this review, the Alliance participated in all phases of it. After staff released preliminary amendments at the end of June, we sent in six pages of comments in early September, including a proposal to modify the definition of “significant woodlands”. A meeting with staff followed later in the month, as well as written staff responses.

Leading up to the consideration by Planning Committee in early November, the Alliance identified three “wedge issues” where community intervention could make a difference: support the prohibition against new country lot subdivisions; keep stormwater ponds out of the flood plain; and modify the definition of “significant woodlands” or at least move the long-promised site alteration by-law forward. These issues were promoted through various networks.

Our comments for Planning Committee included a letter from the “Conservation Partners” (the three Conservation Authorities that cover Ottawa), pledging them to the policy that stormwater ponds must not be located in a flood plain. When chair Hume invited intervenors to send in motions for consideration by Council at the end of the month, the Alliance did so. This again resulted in a point by point response by staff.

A week after the Planning Committee’s public meeting, Transportation Committee considered the revised Transportation Master Plan. Here again the Alliance made a submission and an appearance. We raised a number of issues but the main concern expressed was about the plan to widen Old Richmond Road through Stony Swamp.

Development Charges review

On March 31, jointly with the Federation of Citizens’ Associations and the Healthy Transportation Coalition, the Alliance issued a media release decrying the absence of public consultation on the review of Development Charges in Ottawa. A report to Planning Committee on the “guiding principles, framework and vision statement along with a public consultation process”, promised for January, never materialized. The groups’ statement argued for stricter implementation of the principle that growth should pay for growth.

The City’s public engagement and transparency performance

Leading up to the conclusion of this 5-year review of the Official Plan, a Planning Summit had been held in April 2012 and very general descriptions of what was being prepared were tabled in January 2013 but there was nothing specific before the public until the end of June. The Transportation, Pedestrian and Bicycle plans only became available in October.

The Infrastructure Master Plan was released just prior to Planning Committee’s public meeting in November. Little surprise that not a single member of the public intervened when it came up for consideration — in fact there was not even a staff presentation on it and there was no discussion by Councillors. This about a plan that foresees $1.5 billion in capital expenditures over the next nine years alone!

In other respects as well, that November meeting of Planning Committee was a low point in the City’s performance when it comes to engagement of the public and transparency in decision making. The Committee simply dispensed with any discussion or consideration of motions. As for respect for public delegations, representatives of land owners repeatedly and grossly exceeded their speaking times while community delegates were held strictly to their 5-minute limit.

To add insult to injury, the City claims to have received 11,000-fold input from the public for its “Building a Liveable Ottawa” exercise. This turns out to include 8,000 visits to the City’s web site and/or participation in a March 2013 survey, which apparently only half of the visitors completed. No wonder, as it was a highly amateurish affair that was severely panned in discussion on our listserv.

The draft consultation report for “Building a Liveable Ottawa” formed a 376-page Appendix in… the Infrastructure Master Plan! Perusing it, it becomes clear that the various “consultations” consisted mostly of one-way communication, with evidence of dialogue far and few between.

In conclusion, while staff has been very correct in responding to our written comments, the broader public was barely engaged in this exercise. Consultations mainly took the form of balkanized advisory panels (one for the “community” and one for developers). The Federation of Citizens’ Associations, which had representatives on the community panel, worked hard to link its advice to member concerns but the pace was fast and there was reportedly little feedback to any comments made.

It is simply not possible to have meaningful public consultations on such wide-ranging and complex matters within a span of less than six months.

Compounding these failures in public engagement are the deficiencies in creation of a public record. After substantive Minutes were abolished in 2011, one is left with “action summaries” and a video record that is often unavailable and is not indexed. (Meetings of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee held outside City Hall have no video record at all.) Following the discussion at Council on November 26, the Alliance had occasion to point out a number of defects in the record which the coordinator gratefully acknowledged and corrected. One outcome is that henceforth the “Minutes” of Council will include the voting record on defeated motions.

On a related matter, at various occasions during the Official Plan review, the Alliance argued for better access to basic planning documents. It was proposed that public libraries have paper copies of the Official Plan and other key documents, kept up to date through a standard updating process. Web-based updates are not enough — the public should have access to a printed version. We are also still awaiting implementation of a promised single PDF of the Official Plan on the web site so that searches can be performed more efficiently.

Other City of Ottawa matters

Urban Natural Area Strategy Update

In October staff came forward with a proposed update of a Strategy on Urban Natural Areas (UNAs) that was originally approved in 2007 — a key outcome of the 2006 Urban Greenspace Master Plan. Apart from three UNAs which it recommended to acquire during the next term of Council, staff proposed to abandon the strategy, claiming that 93% of the land targeted in 2007 now has “some form of protection” — 1613 ha. (The 2007 Strategy proposed to protect 1726 ha, down from the 2816 ha in 193 parcels originally identified in the 2005 and 2006 evaluations.)

At Planning Committee, staff gave a presentation which contained important data (two maps showing “high-priority” UNAs at risk of development) and context (post-OPA76, in new urban areas, components of the Natural Heritage System must be conveyed to the City at no cost; in the rural area, OPA 76 strengthened the protection of environmental areas). In 2014, staff intends to come forward with an “Environmentally Sensitive Land Stewardship Framework” including a “Targeted Stewardship Fund.” None of that information was included in the staff report. It is intended to be put forward as a Priority for the next term of Council.

Like other intervenors, the Alliance’s brief referred to three specific UNAs but also made four general points:

  • the strategy changed without seeking public consultation, which represents a serious lack of transparency and accountability;
  • environmental protection efforts which had been endorsed following public consultation are “defunded”;
  • the areas being targeted for protection are reduced, without any assessment of the impact of abandoning the remaining urban natural areas and
  • the report has only vague assertions that lands have “some form of protection”.

An important side-debate developed out of the presentation by Faith Blacquière regarding the City’s obligation to purchase land if it wants to protect it. A memo from Legal Services that resulted by no means closes this debate.

Wildlife Strategy

We commented on the City of Ottawa’s April 2013 draft Wildlife Strategy. Points raised included:

  • This is really intended to be a “Wildlife conflict reduction strategy”.
  • The Strategy is of little help to residents who feel negatively affected by wildlife.
  • Cats are devastating birds. Free-roaming domestic cats and barn and feral cats each require distinct mitigation. (On the scope of the killing, see Loss et al., Nature Communications, 29 January 2013)
  • Farmers, other rural residents and urbanites each have their own challenges and issues.

Our comments set up two tests for Council to see whether it was serious about a progressive wildlife strategy: on process, we proposed an Ad Hoc Committee of Council drawn from three Standing Committees; on substance, we suggested the establishment of an Implementation Group.

The Strategy was on the agenda of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs agenda on July 4. With the exception of stating that communication skills are an important requirement for the new position of Wildlife Biologist, none of our suggestions were accepted.

Cardinal Creek Village Concept Plan

A Concept Plan proposed by the area’s main developer, Taggart/Tamarack, came to Planning Committee on July 25. As another example of how transparency is lacking in planning matters, a large number of changes to the Concept Plan, the Transportation Plan and the Services Plan are set out as conditions (refer to “Document 6”) before Council would approve the By-law bringing the OPA into force. This renders the process and outcome opaque to anyone but the Planning Department and the proponent.

Carp Hills: Update on preservation efforts

Judy Makin reported in December that residents of the Carp area have formed a 5-member executive committee of a group now calling itself “Huntley Highlands” in order to form a connected eco-corridor with public access along the Carp River. Residents use Hidden Lake as a recreation area although formally it is a private property. The owner of this property has expressed an intention to fence off his property due to littering. These plans have distressed the residents who greatly value the access to the lands around Hidden Lake. Well-attended public meetings have been held. The committee’s broad intent is to preserve broad swaths of the Carp Hills.

Municipal Election 2014

In February the Alliance brought FCA and Ecology Ottawa together to discuss potential cooperation regarding the October 2014 municipal election. Various ideas were considered, in light of outcomes of involvement in previous campaigns and the circumstances of the current style of governance. A Councillor score card of this term’s performance, as has been done in the past, makes no sense now since almost all decisions by Council are unanimous. The Alliance concluded that energies best be spent on:

  • formulation of a community platform
  • identifying good candidates
  • preparing a post-election education session on environmental protection.

We have been approached by the local chapter of the Club of Rome for a potential joint project.

Former Rockcliffe Airbase Community Design Plan

The Canada Lands Company held three public consultations to solicit comments and views on a Community Design Plan for the former CFB Rockcliffe Airbase. A final draft preferred Plan was presented at an Open House by the Canada Lands Company in February.

The Greenspace Alliance’s <response to the draft CDP>, prepared by Al Crosby, made these points:

  • protect the major natural areas (Montfort Woods and NRC Woods) with more robust treed buffers and less high density buildings on their boundaries;
  • add more mini-parks in the community’s central core to promote walkability instead of driving cars;
  • certain linkages between parks and natural areas are missing and
  • consider geothermal heating/cooling, solar energy, water usage and green building design guidelines.

Road through Stony Swamp

A public meeting in Kanata in September concerned a proposal to connect Hope Side Road with West Hunt Club by widening Old Richmond Road through Stony Swamp. The Alliance obtained further detail about staff’s comparison with an alternative solution to the expected traffic demand, namely a widening of Fallowfield Road. Comments were provided but were not heeded.

The original proposal had been to extend Hope Side Road to Highway 416. Following a joint NCC-City study of the cumulative effects of 30 road projects through the Greenbelt, including that one, this option was vetoed. Later on, the alternative of turning Old Richmond into a 4-lane divided highway came forward.

Following the Notice of Completion of the environmental assessment at the end of January, the Alliance filed a Part II Order request under the Environmental Assessment Act with the Ontario Minister of the Environment. In brief, our objections are as follows:

  1. The terms of reference for this project were not subjected to public consultations.
  2. Directing traffic headed for Highway 416 via Fallowfield Road is a far more benign option.
  3. Should the Minister decide to allow the study’s preferred option, then far more comprehensive mitigation measures are required.

Our requested remedy is that the Minister:

  1. order the City to comply with Part II of the Act, under terms of reference that include a proper and comprehensive assessment of the option of widening Fallowfield Road. Specifically, the terms of reference should include a full assessment of the negative impact on Stony Swamp under the Old Richmond Road/West Hunt Club Road option and the feasibility of mitigation that would achieve “no net loss” of ecological functions;
  2. in the alternative, should he agree to discard the Fallowfield option, order that the project be allowed only on condition that:

a) a study be completed to his satisfaction which uses the cumulative effects methodology applied in the November 2012 “Joint Study to Assess Cumulative Effects of Transportation Infrastructures on the National Capital Greenbelt”.

b) based on that study, a comprehensive mitigation plan be developed and implemented against the adverse impact on all wildlife, in addition to mitigation against adverse impact on species at risk. Before finalizing the plan, it should be subjected to peer review and public consultation.

c) it estimate the impact on peat and carbon sink loss, air quality, including benzene concentrations, and greenhouse gas emissions and identify appropriate mitigation measures and

d) it not include “wet” culverts under Old Richmond Road.

In addition to approval by the Ministry, the NCC still has its own review process to go through.

Other NCC matters

NCC Greenbelt Master Plan

In November the NCC’s Board of Directors gave final approval to its Greenbelt Master Plan. This revised Master Plan contains a strengthened, very green vision of the Greenbelt, recognizes linkages between the core areas, re-incorporates Leitrim Wetland and thickens connectivity south of the Airport. On the other hand, it fails to expand the western end of Greenbelt or recognize the connection with the South March Highlands and Carp Hills. It allows 25 of 30 City-proposed road projects through the Greenbelt. (One red-lighted project — extension of Hope Side Road — later, in a kind of bait and switch, re-appeared as a widening of Old Richmond Road.)

NCC Urban Lands Master Plan

After many aborted attempts over the last several years, the NCC finally came out with a draft master plan for its urban lands (i.e., any lands other than the Greenbelt and Gatineau Park). The Alliance was invited to a Public Advisory Committee meeting and public consultations at the end of March followed. One of our concerns is that the Southern Corridor lands are designated “Other”, suggesting that the NCC sees no role for them in its mandate. If the Poets’ Pathway’s original idea for these lands is to be realized then the NCC will have to convinced otherwise.

Mediation of the NCC’s appeal of the 2003 Official Plan

Mediation of this appeal is still pending, subject to completion of the NCC’s Urban Lands Master Plan; the Alliance is a party to this mediation. The OMB requested an update by October 16 but there has been no word from counsel for the NCC nor the OMB. At issue here are Rochester Field in the West End and lands in the Southern Corridor as well as some policy language.

Ontario policies

Provincial Policy Statement review

A new Provincial Policy Statement under the Planning Act came into effect on April 30, 2014. This is the end of a very long gestation process that began in 2010 and saw a draft published in September 2012. With the assistance of a comparative table prepared by Faith Blacquière, we provided an analysis of the new text. We concluded that there are no show-stopping changes. However, there is more supportive language about rural areas. There is explicit support for “green infrastructure” (a defined term) and for alternative energy supply. A municipality now “shall” identify its “natural heritage system”. Finally, the Province now imposes its criteria for declaring woodlands significant and further degrades protection of fish habitat.

Ontario land use planning and development charges consultation

In November the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing issued two discussion papers, on Land Use Planning and the Appeal System, and on the Development Charges System. The Alliance provided responses to each of the questions. Points made included:

On Land Use Planning and the Appeal system:

  • All applications pertaining to a given property should move through the review and approval/rejection process together and be coordinated with any Committee of Adjustment applications.
  • Zoning amendments to implement new Official Plan policies should be completed within a year.
  • Pre-consultation with community stakeholders on development proposals should be obligatory.
  • The role of the Ontario Municipal Board is far too strong. It should act more like a true appeal body by providing direction regarding disputes and then sending the matter back to the municipality for consensus resolution.
  • Any party to an appeal should be able to seek leave to appeal to a Consolidated Board under the Consolidated Hearings Act, composed of members of the OMB and the Environmental Review Tribunal, when both Planning Act and Environmental Assessment Act expertise and jurisprudence would be relevant to the adjudication.

On Development Charges in Ontario:

  • Growth should pay for growth by covering all of the capital costs of growth.
  • Development Charges should vary in accord with the cost of growth in specific areas. In Ottawa these areas should be: Inside the Greenbelt | Kanata | Stittsville | Orleans | Barrhaven | Leitrim | Riverside South | rural serviced | rural unserviced.
  • Deductions for “benefits to existing development” should be calculated based on populations in specific nearby areas. Roads often are a disbenefit to existing settled areas.
  • The 10% discount for certain services should be abolished, especially for transit.
  • The level of service for transit should be calculated forward-looking, not based on a 10-year historical average.

Domtar Lands (The Isles)

Many Alliance members were among the large number of people attending the first consultation on December 11. It is noteworthy that this first phase was a consultation about the values that will drive the proposed development. John Almstedt agreed to be the liaison for this project.

National Capital Environmental Nonprofit Network

The Alliance has regularly attended NCENN’s monthly meetings. One of the contacts made there was with the new “Ottawa Eco-talent Network” (OETN) which aims to bring the research needs of a community to a mentor who will guide the work of students at Carleton University or the University of Ottawa.

Research proposal to Ottawa Eco-Talent Network

The Alliance proposed to OETN to make a comparative study of policies in Ontario municipalities regarding country lot estates. This work is now under way and will be tabled as our contribution in defence of the prohibition against country lot estates should it be appealed to the OMB.

Gatineau’s Plan directeur

Nicole attended all stages of Gatineau’s new “Plan directeur” — the first one since amalgamation. The Plan was the result of five public consultations and many committee meetings, including one on transportation, another one on environment etc. The final report was also very well supported with maps and drawings. It proposes that all new development will stay within the current urban boundary with particular attention to proximity to public transportation and services. We noted that almost 40% of Gatineau’s land mass is protected agricultural land.


Greenspace Alliance Renewal

Current and recent members of the Alliance were engaged in a discussion about the future direction of the organization. It was concluded that people want to maintain the current activities of the Alliance. An active recruitment should be carried out in order to ensure the sustainability of the organization. It was agreed that attendance to other organizations’ meetings is highly valuable where we should make people aware of our work.

Fund raising

Our thanks go again to Janice Seline for organizing the “Rare and Unusual” plant sale at the Experiment Farm on upcoming Mother’s Day 2014. Contributions are being received from Albert Dugal and others, though this is more difficult than usual because of the late season.

Web site and Listserv

Jason remained our web master and list “owner”. Over the summer, our internet presence migrated to a dedicated server, retaining Drupal for the web site but adopting Sympa for the green-news email service. Juan Pedro and Erwin continued as List moderators. Postings continue to average 1-2 per day and discussions sometimes become quite lively. Subscribing to the List is now exclusively via the web site and the protocol to screen and welcome new subscribers remains in place. Subscriptions to the List have been climbing modestly, to over 90. Elina (Minutes), Lorne Peterson (Living in the Land), Al Crosby (CFB Rockcliffe) and Erwin made content contributions to the web site.

MEC capacity grant application

We applied for a capacity grant from Mountain Equipment Coop in the Spring but were not successful; we will try again in the Fall. We are hoping to finance:
a) development of a communication and membership strategy, including a survey of our listserv subscribers;
b) software integrated in our website and our email service that would allow our supporters and any member of the public to write a letter to government officials, complementing interventions which the Alliance has formulated; and
c) a guide for non-technical volunteers to facilitate their participation in creating web content.

Future directions

We again foresee a full agenda in the coming year, including a symposium on road ecology in connection with the planned widening of the road through Stony Swamp and participation in selected appeals of Ottawa’s Comprehensive Official Plan Amendment. Our involvement in the NCC’s Urban Lands Master Plan and the Community Design Plan for former CFB Rockcliffe will also continue. Our watching briefs include the LEAR review re agricultural lands and potential amendments to the National Capital Act.

Once again our heartfelt thanks go to all who have helped over the course of the year with advice or assisted in other ways in each of our endeavours.

The Board

29 May 2014