Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital
Annual Report 2015
May 2014 – April 2015
Click <here> for the pdf version of this report
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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 again 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.
Our Main Activities are grouped under 26 headings or subheadings. Main accomplishments include our participation in the October 27 municipal election in Ottawa, our assistance on developments in Kanata and the 60-acre encroachment of the Central Experimental Farm, and ongoing involvement in appeals of the 2013 Comprehensive Official Plan Amendment.
As an organization, we increased both group and individual memberships (but still have further to go) and more than doubled donations from individuals. Our mailing service hovers around 100 subscribers and is as active as ever. Our networking with other groups remains extensive.
Members of the Board in 2014-15 were: Erwin Dreessen (Co-Chair, Treasurer and Secretary), Nicole DesRoches (Co-Chair), Bruce Lindsay (Membership Chair), Amy Kempster, Sol Shuster, Jason Kania, and Juan Pedro Unger (Directors at Large).
Comprehensive Ottawa Official Plan Amendment (OPA 150)
Thirty-two appeals of OPA 150 were filed with the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) — three by community groups (including the Alliance), six by individuals or about single sites and 23 by developers. Among items appealed are the Complete Streets policy, the natural linkages analysis and Schedules L, and the prohibition of future country lot subdivisions (appealed by Sunset Lakes). Our own appeal aims to make the natural linkages more visible on the Schedules L. Ecology Ottawa authorized Erwin to be its agent for the Complete Streets appeal.
Staff sought to dismiss our appeal but changed its mind at the last minute. Throughout we put forward options that would increase transparency and accessibility of City planning documents in return for withdrawing our appeal. To date our offer has not been taken up. We spoke with Councillor Nussbaum about the City’s failure to respond and about the extreme opaqueness of the pre-hearing process in general; for example, no report has come to Planning Committee.
A pre-hearing conference was held on April 7-8. In addition to a Procedural Order, the City hoped to obtain an Order declaring “uncontested” sections in force. This was derailed because several Parties objected to the City’s definition of “uncontested” and, most importantly, because Taggart, supported by Walton, argued that the City had fallen short of what it was expected to do as part of the Comprehensive Review; most surprisingly, they argued that the Board had the power to modify the urban boundary, despite Council’s finding that there was sufficient supply of urban land.
We now await the Board’s decision on these “jurisdiction” matters. Actual hearings are likely to get underway mid-2016.
In light of the delay, there is a new window for the Ottawa Eco-Talent Network to provide us with an analysis of country lot estate policies in other Ontario municipalities.
Ottawa municipal election, 2014
We decided to take part in the 2014 municipal election campaign by sending a letter (in English and French) to all candidates and publishing on our website any responses received. The letter solicited candidates’ opinion on four propositions:
- Support for a strong site alteration by-law, with emphasis on “strong.”
- Renewed commitment to an annual allocation towards an environmental lands acquisition fund.
- Standing firm in support of the prohibition against future country lot subdivisions.
- The City’s Advisory Committees should be genuine bridges between the public and Council.
Our letter was endorsed by 16 local environmental organizations and 150 individuals, covering every ward. We placed advertisements in seven community papers. Centretown News did a story on some of our propositions.
We received responses from 64 candidates, including 13 who ended up winning (seven of whom were incumbents). Large majorities were supportive of our propositions.
We co-sponsored a debate on the environment in Capital Ward. At Ecology Ottawa’s mayoralty debate on September 24 we had an opportunity to ask two questions. In response, Candidate mayor Watson committed to bringing in a site alteration by-law. We issued a media release to broadcast this significant event, more than ten years after Council first made the commitment in the amalgamated City’s first Official Plan of 2003.
Letters went out to all the winning candidates.
Through a collaborative effort on the GA List we developed a 4-page brief for the Environment Committee outlining its challenges and opportunities as we saw them. We visited nine of 10 Committee members to present our suggestions and were universally well received. We appeared at the Committee’s first meeting in the new term of Council, on February 17, but were disappointed that not a single change was made to the Committee’s terms of reference as put forward by staff.
Other City of Ottawa matters
Ottawa Tree Canopy project
At our May 2014 AGM Eric Jones made a presentation about a citizen science project measuring the extent of Ottawa’s tree canopy. The study, performed by 19 volunteers, was based on 2005 and 2011 aerial photos and the data were mapped at the city, ward and neighbourhood level. Overall, the city’s surface had trees on 22% and other vegetation on 31%, while 37% had an impervious surface, 9% showed bare soil, and 1% was water. One-fourth of the neighbourhoods had 30% or more tree cover while one-third had less than 20%. The EAB devastation of Ash trees after 2011 will have reduced these numbers significantly, replanting notwithstanding. The Official Plan’s objective is 30% tree cover.
The main advantages of this methodology are its relatively low cost and that it is repeatable because the 40,000+ grid points (100 m apart) are geo-referenced.
Omnibus zoning amendments affecting wetlands
In July staff proposed 28 zoning amendments refining the boundaries of wetlands or floodplains, mostly slightly expanding the scope of the Environmental Protection (EP3) designation. Ken McRae and the Alliance objected to one Map change (related to Fernbank Wetland) but supported all others; there was virtually no debate at Planning Committee or Council and none about the one change we objected to. Thomas Cavanagh then appealed three map changes to the OMB; they affect the Goulbourn Wetlands Complex. Ken and the Alliance have requested Party status but a hearing scheduled for April 1-2 was cancelled to allow the appellant to do more fieldwork.
Zoning for open spaces
At the February meeting of the FCA, Erwin participated in a panel on planning issues, discussing whether the City’s zoning by-laws protect natural areas. He sadly came to the conclusion that they rarely do but urged looking up on geoOttawa whether your neighbourhood park, wooded area or wetland is zoned as you think it ought to be.
We submitted comments on a proposed Protocol for Wildlife Protection during Construction. Our comments were generally supportive of the Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre’s positive assessment of the draft Protocol but noted that use of the words “where possible” holds the potential for a giant loophole for the protection of wildlife that is not on an endangered species list. We also insisted on full transparency of the consultation process, unlike what happened with the development of the (very weak) Wildlife Strategy in 2010-2013.
KNL at South March Highlands
In February 2011, KNL (a consortium of Richraft and Urbandale) had cut the Beaver Pond forest down in preparation for its Phase 9 development. The City owns a large conservation forest to the north but Phases 7 & 8 and 9 would form a “hole in the donut” of the South March Highlands. Major unresolved issues are an acceptable stormwater management plan and mitigation of the destruction of Blanding’s Turtle habitat. A public meeting on March 4 discussed the results of recently completed studies on both issues:
- KNL is now in discussions with the Ministry of Natural Resources on an “overall benefit” permit allowing destruction of Blanding’s Turtle habitat; when completed the permit proposal will be posted to the Environmental Bill of Rights web site for comment.
- A report on existing stormwater management conditions of Kizell Wetland, Beaver Pond, Kizell Drain, Shirley’s Brook and Watts Creek had remained in draft form since March 2013 but was finalized in March 2015 and became available on April 30.
In follow-up Erwin worked closely with the SMH-CRC group to formulate a large number of outstanding questions. Reading of the final 2015 report provoked many more questions. We hope to have further discussions with staff and all stakeholders. The City appears very reluctant to have further discussions, however, even though it promised a “fully transparent process” at the public meeting.
Meanwhile KNL is working hard to proceed, among other ways by prematurely sponsoring a Engineer’s Report under the Drainage Act to study the implications of diverting run-off from Shirley’s Brook to Watts Creek. SMH-CRC’s appearance at the September 4 ARAC meeting where appointment of an Engineer was approved led to a “kitchen meeting” with staff which resulted in a memo from Legal Services to Council. The memo clarified the implications of the City’s support for this appointment and set out next steps, including assurance of access to the report when completed.
As well, KNL is now said to be seeking to “register” Phases 7, 8 and 9 even though it obviously has not yet met the Conditions set out in the 2006 OMB-endorsed Conditions of Draft Approval. Pressure to proceed is attributed to the Public School Board’s urgent need to start construction of a new school on part of the Phase 8 lands.
Note that in 2006 the fact that part of the KNL lands are Blanding’s Turtles habitat was not yet recognized. That came about only as a result of the study performed in connection with the Terry Fox Drive Extension project. This alone should be reason enough to re-open the Conditions but instead the City is punting this to the Ministry.
Note also that the NCC has a vital interest in this development because it is a major landowner along Watts Creek in the Greenbelt.
Kanata North Community Design Plan
Discussions continued on a CDP for these expansion lands (known as “Area 1” in the urban boundary debates of 2009-12). A woodlot that was under investigation for its natural heritage value began to be cut at the end of May, leading to swift reaction from neighbours, the local Councillor, and the Alliance. A fly-over and gathering of photographic evidence was arranged and a media release was issued. The City charged the parties responsible and we are following the court process closely.
Rumour has it that Richcraft, which owns this sliver of land between Terry Fox Drive Extension and the Carp River, is preparing to develop it. For a story on how this land came to be declared eligible for urbanization on a false factual basis, please refer to Erwin’s story in Trail and Landscape of Jan.-Mar. 2013.
Cardinal Creek Village
Taggart, the main developer of this major urbanization project, is in a big hurry, having managed to get many approvals including, in April 2014, a draft Plan of Subdivision, while the Cardinal Creek Subwatershed Study was not approved by Council until the end of June. There is community opposition to the development plans especially because they assume that Highway 174 will be widened which is by no means certain and may not be feasible. However, the area north of Old Montreal Road has yet to be planned out.
Former Rockcliffe Airbase Community Design Plan
The Public Advisory Group for this CDP met for the last time in early June; Al Crosby continued to represent the Alliance. It is noteworthy that Canada Lands Company has held nine Public Advisory Group meetings and three public consultations. CLC has submitted its proposals to the City but is being asked to do further studies. During this technical circulation phase the City has forbidden CLC to share its submissions with the public. As a result of this deliberately opaque process, the public has been unable to learn how its comments have fared in CLC’s final draft CDP. Breaking news (late May 2015): The planning documents are expected to be posted to the City’s development applications web site any day now and be submitted to Planning Committee in June or July, preceded by a final Open House.
Domtar Lands (The Isles)
Windmill came forward with its Official Plan and Zoning amendments for the Ottawa side of its planned “Isles” development on the former Domtar lands (now re-branded as ‘Zibi’). Planning Committee on October 2 devoted five hours to the item, having had to listen to 38 delegations opposing the proposals; it also had received 72 written submissions, all pleading for William Commanda’s vision of these lands. A similar scene, though less populous, played out on the Gatineau side in November. Both Councils approved the proposals. Douglas Cardinal and others are appealing Ottawa’s decision to the OMB.
At its meeting of January 20 the NCC’s Board of Directors approved Windmill’s land use and master Concept Plan “to take effect following approval of an amendment to the Capital Core Area Sector Plan.”
Remer and Idone lands at Leitrim Wetland
We met with City and South Nation Conservation staff in October about the development of the Remer and Idone lands on the south side of Leitrim Wetland. (The Idone lands were referred to as “Area 8” in the urban boundary debates of 2009-12.) Both properties are now owned by Regional Group which is preparing a Plan of Subdivision. An earlier agreement by the developer to meet with us was withdrawn, leaving us no choice but to wait until the City releases information.
Airport Parkway and Lester Road widening
Initiation of a 2-year environmental assessment of the proposal to widen the Airport Parkway and Lester Road to Bank Street was announced in January. We requested membership in the public advisory committee and were accepted. We asked and after much delay received the draft Natural Heritage Existing Conditions Report. We’ll meet with the consultants after compilation of comments from various sources including members of the OF-NC Conservation Committee.
Erwin and Donna DuBreuil were invited to attend a symposium on road ecology at the Canadian Museum of Nature on November 27-28, organized by the Royal Ontario Museum’s Ontario Road Ecology Group (OREG). A full report on this important symposium is here.
John McDonnell, Executive Director of CPAWS-Ottawa Valley Chapter, came to our January meeting and explained that the Chapter’s focus on road ecology began as part of the Algonquin-to-Adirondacks project, when certain key linkages and risks were identified. Several projects have been undertaken, including some by David Seburn on Highway 17 and Roger Stevens Drive (County Road 6). CPAWS also commented on the Highway 5 project in Quebec. The lack of data is a common refrain.
With a grant from the Ontario Species at Risk Stewardship Fund, a Road Ecology Guidebook aimed at citizen scientists and the general public is in draft, a data base is being built and there are also plans for an app to easily report road kill or incidents to be added to the data base.
John welcomed joint efforts on three road issues identified by the Alliance that are imminent: the road widening of Old Richmond Road through Stony Swamp, the widening of the Airport Parkway and Lester Road, and the widening of March Road. One lesson out of November’s symposium is that the time to invest in mitigation for wildlife connectivity is when money is being allocated to work on a road.
City of Ottawa + National Capital Commission
Road widening through Stony Swamp
On November 19, the Ontario Minister of Environment responded to our Part II Order request, allowing the widening of Old Richmond Road through Stony Swamp to go ahead but setting three conditions prior to construction. The conditions are not onerous but require the City to work extra hard to minimize impact on Stony Swamp and put a heavy burden on the NCC to achieve appropriate mitigation. The decision, which included a 10-page detailed response to our concerns, makes reference to a Stony Swamp Habitat Restoration Plan. Efforts to learn more about this Plan and enter into a dialogue with the NCC about this project have yet to bear fruit.
Other NCC matters
Greenbelt Master Plan
Considerable confusion arose when a March 2013 report prepared by Genivar surfaced entitled Management Recommendations for the Valued Ecosystems and Habitats of the Greenbelt and Urban Lands. It had been prepared alongside the development of the Greenbelt Master Plan but was never revealed to the public or the members of the Public Advisory Committee. It is a very detailed report yet does not cover all areas identified as environmentally sensitive in the Greenbelt Master Plan. We obtained both a CD and hard copy.
We met for an hour with various NCC staff members on November 24 and were assured that the Master Plan, not this Genivar report, is authoritative (as will be the coming Urban Lands MP).
We were provided with copies of the deck about implementation of the Greenbelt Master Plan that had been used at the November 19 Board of Directors meeting. The 279 actions identified in the Plan have been narrowed down to seven priorities. A Public Advisory Committee was promised to begin meeting in the Spring.
Other issues discussed were the road widening project through Stony Swamp, issues around the re-incorporation of Leitrim Wetland in the Greenbelt, and the potential diversion of Shirley’s Brook to Watts Creek.
In follow-up to a presentation by the NCC’s Eva Katic at Fletcher Gardens on February 18, we obtained a 42-page annotated bibliography of studies performed for or by the NCC between 1969 and 2011.
Urban Lands Master Plan
Nothing further emerged out of the NCC after Erwin, under a tight timeframe, sent in comments on the draft Master Plan in April 2014. At its April 22, 2015 meeting, the Board of Directors approved the Capital Urban Lands Plan (the word Master having been dropped). A new concept in this final Plan is “Regional Interest Land Mass;” the only land so designated is the Southern Corridor.
Gatineau Park Trails Consultation
In 2005 the Gatineau Park Master Plan had decided that conservation was to be the main focus while recreation should take second place. As well, an ecological corridor strategy was established, numerous studies on different species were done etc. But the health of the Park is deteriorating. So the NCC wants to cut back on both official and informal trails. Nicole attended a consultation on June 16. It netted the usual complainers who want more trails and some suggestions about trail management which must be addressed if the NCC wants to cut back on the numbers or the width of trails etc. Suggestions were made to work with Friends of Gatineau Park to widen its mandate and membership and to work with other recreational clubs.
We made a few modest suggestions to improve practices around Board of Director meetings. In response, we were promised that staff reports will henceforth be available at least three days before a Board of Directors meeting; and Minutes of Board meetings will be posted within three days of their approval. Two other suggestions remain under consideration.
Mediation of the NCC’s appeal of the 2003 Official Plan
Mediation of the NCC’s appeal of the 2003 Official Plan regarding Rochester Field and the Southern Corridor remains in abeyance. The Alliance is a Party to this appeal and mediation. The key clause of the memorandum of understanding reached in 2008 and endorsed by Council, the NCC and the Alliance is:
Following the completion of the Urban Lands Master Plan study and its approval by the National Capital Commission, the City of Ottawa shall advise the National Capital Commission and the Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital whether it wishes to proceed with a planning study for all or any of the parcels. Should the City of Ottawa so advise, it shall have one year to complete such study prior to any portion of the appeal by the National Capital Commission being scheduled for a hearing.
Now that the “Urban Lands Plan” has been completed, this matter should finally proceed to a conclusion. Media reports suggest that, as part of the agreement between the NCC and the City on the western extension of Light Rail, the fate of Rochester Field has already been sealed. And now the Southern Corridor appears to have been “saved.”
Other federal matters
Central Experimental Farm encroachment
Following the November 3 federal announcement that it would make 60 acres (24 ha) of the Central Experimental Farm available for a new hospital, the Alliance has worked closely with Heritage Ottawa, the Heritage Canada National Trust, adjacent community associations and concerned scientists to develop counter-arguments to this encroachment on a local and national treasure. Apparently unbeknown to federal and hospital officials, much of the 60 acres happens to be “Field No. 1” where long-term soil studies are ongoing.
We received assurances that the land will not be “temporarily” turned into a parking lot and are continuing to participate in strategy development with the various stakeholders. A web page is devoted to documents, media coverage and lobbying efforts.
Memorial to the victims of communism
Joining a chorus of opposition, on February 22 we sent a letter protesting the location of a memorial to the victims of communism on Wellington Street next to the Supreme Court building. Ongoing commentary about this issue is from time to time documented on our web site.
Ontario Municipal Board reform
In light of the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing’s mandate letter under the new government, we wrote to him on November 30, reiterating our proposals for reform of the OMB’s role and practices first made in January 2014. They included the suggestion to broaden the application of the Consolidated Hearings Act so that matters with strong environmental implications could be heard by a joint panel of OMB and Environmental Review Tribunal members. This would avoid having to resort to Part II Order requests following completion of environmental assessment reports.
Municipal election reform
On March 6 we sent a letter to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing making three points about the Municipal Elections Act: union and corporate contributions to election campaigns should be prohibited; electoral reform should be made possible, including introduction of proportional representation; and ability of a voter to express a preference for “none of the above” should be clarified and report on. We received a reply indicating that the law would be reformed to allow ranked balloting.
Erwin arranged for an appearance of Fair Vote Canada (Ottawa 123 had refused to participate) at the April meeting of the FCA, to present options for electoral reform at the municipal level. It was explained that ranked balloting is only a voting procedure and does not in fact lead to proportional representation. The fact that for proportional representation to work multi-member wards are required seemed to many in the audience a serious barrier.
Bill 73 – amending the Development Charges Act and the Planning Act
Erwin posted an analysis of this Bill on March 8. A key proposed change is that the cost calculation for transit would be able to look forward ten years instead of having to adhere to service levels of the past ten years; the 10% reduction for transit services in the calculation of development charges would also be abolished. A planning advisory committee with at least one plain resident would be a requirement. In various ways the voice of the public would be given higher prominence. Payment in lieu of parkland would be reduced to, at most, 1 hectare per 500 dwellings (down from the current 300).
At our December meeting Bruce led a long discussion about membership policy and procedures. Among other things we decided to keep membership fees the same as now. Largely thanks to his efforts, our stable of group members has reached seven and revenue from membership has increased 81% compared to last year. This was accomplished in part through an appeal to long-time subscribers to the List who had not yet become members and by paying more attention to renewal dates. On-line payment of fees and donations was investigated but deemed not practical at our current scale of operation.
Our current group members are: the Deschênes Residents Association, CPAWS-Ottawa Valley, South March Highlands – Carp River Restoration, Civic Hospital Neighbourhood Association, Transport Action Canada, Healthy Transportation Coalition, and Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre (Associate Member).
The Alliance continued to attend the monthly meetings of the National Capital Environmental Nonprofit Network (NCENN), attended a Community Associations Forum on Environmental Sustainability (CAFES) meeting on March 28 (the first after a year-long hiatus), remained an active member of the Federation of Citizens’ Associations (FCA) and joined the Healthy Transportation Coalition and the Ontario Environmental Network. Our “non-paying membership” in Gravel Watch Ontario continues. At the April meeting of NCENN Erwin had the opportunity to make a brief presentation about upcoming issues as seen by the Alliance.
Our thanks go again to Janice Seline for organizing the “Rare and Unusual” plant sale at the Experimental Farm on Mother’s Day 2014. Contributions were received from Albert Dugal and several others. Helpers on the day were Christel Woodward, Michael Mack, Barbara Dytnerska, and Simon Seline.
Donations from individuals have more than doubled compared to last year.
Web site and listserv
Jason remained our web master and list “owner.” Juan Pedro and Erwin continued as List moderators. Postings continue to average 1-2 per day and discussions sometimes become quite lively. Anecdotal feedback about the information distributed through our listserv is invariably appreciative.
At the occasion of the municipal election, we opened a Twitter account which we have continued to use to signal additions to the web site. We sent out some 50 tweets to date and currently have over 70 followers.
Outreach, promotion and recognition
We acquired a new, more portable display board. We set up a table at two Wildlife lecture evenings organized by the City. We participated in Nature Canada’s Bird Day Fair in Andrew Haydon Park.
In November, Sol and Erwin met with Giancarlo Mangone, a new Lecturer at the Carleton University School of Architecture who was looking for an innovative urban sustainable development project for his studio of 14 graduate students. They suggested South March Highlands, Leitrim Wetland or Cumberland areas but the City asked to come up with ideas for development of the Kanata Town Centre (land owned by Taggart). Erwin later attended mid-term presentations by the student teams that were inspiring and innovative.
In March, Nicole and Erwin met with a Carleton University official, Pauline Rankin, who is responsible for 1125@Carleton, “an experimental, collaborative virtual and physical space for problem solving, whether focused on new products and services, or addressing irritants or complex ‘wicked’ problems.” We developed a “wish list” — ‘wicked problems’ on the environment and governance plaguing the national capital area — which will be a basis for further discussion.
At the June AGM of the Federation of Citizens’ Associations Amy received the FCA’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
MEC capacity grant application
We were again unsuccessful in our application for a capacity grant from Mountain Equipment Coop; there were 14 successful applications among 66 submitted. We are seeking advice from NCENN (Kristina Inrig) on how to proceed.
As a result of a discussion among Board members and taking into account the views of GA List subscribers, the following priorities for 2015-16 were identified:
1. the site-alteration by-law (which includes tree protection in rural areas and strengthening protection of moderately significant urban natural areas);
2. wildlife-friendly planning (which includes the road widening issues and the Protection Protocol during Construction);
3. starting afresh with a “new” Official Plan for 2019;
4. protecting environmentally sensitive lands through budget allocations and other mechanisms.
Iola Price has collected site alteration by-laws of eight Ontario municipalities but analysis awaits.
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.
25 May 2015