Redefining “significant woodlands”

From our 2015-16 Annual Report:

The 2014 version of the Provincial Policy Statement obliges municipalities to adopt the criteria set out in the Ministry’s Natural Heritage Reference Manual to determine whether a woodland is “significant” and thus part of the Natural Heritage System. Erwin [Dreessen] and Owen Clarkin attended a stakeholder consultation meeting called by the City’s senior environmental planner; other attendees were the Conservation Partners, the NCC and Ecology Ottawa. The meeting was to prepare him for a meeting with the Ministry’s staff on the fine points of interpretation of the Manual. In a welcome gesture of openness, the minutes of both our meeting and of the discussion with staff were made available. A key point is that “significant” woodlots are to be identified in both urban and rural areas.

On September 12, 2016 we gathered again to hear the City’s proposed policy changes.  Here are the slides of the presentation; they were also shared with the development industry.  These proposals are now undergoing internal circulation and may change before being officially brought forward.

The new policy would delete the definition found in policy 1(c) of section 2.4.2 of the Official Plan and instead adopt a definition based on chapter 7 of the Natural Heritage Reference Manual.  The chapter recommends criteria based on size, ecological functions, uncommon characteristics, and economic and social functional values.

These proposals are headed for Planning Committee on November 22 as part of a PPS 2014 compliance report and would be rolled in to the supplementary Official Plan Amendment that will get the appeals of OPA 150 back on track.


UPDATE — December 15, 2016

As it turned out, the proposed new definition came forward to Planning Committee on December 13 as a stand-alone Official Plan Amendment (later to be named OPA 179). Here is Nick Stow’s letter and the staff report. To access the five Supporting Documents, go to, agenda item 1.

The report recommends that, in the urban area, any woodland at least 0.8 ha in size and 40 years old be automatically considered Significant based on Economic and Social Functional Values (NHRM criterion 4). For woodlots in the rural area, the Manual’s landscape approach based on subwatersheds would be used; updated landcover mapping and significant woodland mapping is expected to be completed in 2017.

The sticky issue of woodlands at the periphery of the urban area was finessed by proposing that a working group would over the next 12 months look for solutions and also amend the Environmental Impact Statement Guidelines.

Paul Johanis spoke for the Alliance at Planning Committee; three representatives of developers also spoke.  Written submissions came from Bruce Lindsay and Ottawa Public Health in support of the proposed policy, and from the Ontario Stone, Sand & Gravel Association and ten developer interests which all expressed reservations and concerns.

Planning Committee made two amendments to the staff recommendations resulting in the following put to Council the following day:

That the Planning Committee:
1.         recommend that Council approve amendments to the Official Plan policies for Significant Woodlands, Urban Expansion Study Areas, and Developing Communities, as detailed in Document 1, as amended by the following:

a.         that Policy 6b in Section 3.11 and Policy 3b in Section 3.12 of the Official Plan Amendment attached as Document 1 to Report ACS2016-PIE-PGM-0176 (Official Plan Amendment – Significant Woodlands Policies) each be modified to read as follows:

“Identify the natural heritage system on the site independent of the potential developable area. Typically an environmental management plan, as described in Section 2.4.3, will be prepared where a sub-watershed study does not exist or does not provide sufficient guidance to identify the environmental features on the site or their functions, which together constitute the natural heritage system. The components of this system are generally described in Section 2.4.2, with the exception that significant woodlands are to be further evaluated through an Environmental Impact Statement. No development will be permitted within this system, which is to be conveyed to the City before development of the area is approved; and”;

2.         direct the Planning, Infrastructure and Economic Development Department to have these new policies only affect those development applications where there is not yet agreement on the existing natural heritage system conditions, as of the date of the adoption of this amendment;

3.         direct the Planning, Infrastructure and Economic Development Department to return to Council within 12 months with a review of policy 6b in Official Plan Section 3.11 – Urban Expansion Study Areas and policy 3b in Official Plan Section 3.12 – Developing Community (Expansion Area), and with recommendations for any necessary changes to implement the directions proposed in Building Better and Smarter Suburbs and to implement effectively the Official Plan policies for Greenspaces (Section 2.4.5), Drainage and Stormwater Management Services (Section 2.3.3), and Air Quality and Climate Change (Section 2.4.1), with the review and recommendations to be conducted and developed in consultation with community and industry stakeholders;

4.         direct the Planning, Infrastructure and Economic Development Department to return to Council within 12 months with proposed revisions to the City’s Environmental Impact Statement Guidelines to include a new section on the evaluation of the social and economic values of urban natural heritage system features, as consistent with the Provincial Policy Statement and Official Plan policies contained in this amendment for effective and resilient land use, and as developed in consultation with community and industry stakeholders; and

5.         approve the Consultation Details Section of this report be included as part of the ‘brief explanation’ in the Summary of Written and Oral Public Submissions, to be prepared by the City Clerk and Solicitor’s Office and submitted to Council in the report titled, Summary of Oral and Written Public Submissions for Items Subject to Bill 73 ‘Explanation Requirements’ at the City Council Meeting of 25 January 2017, subject to submissions received between the publication of this report and the time of Council’s decision.

At Council, the policy was approved as proposed.

Media coverage on StittsvilleCentral.


UPDATE – January 10, 2017

Taggart, R.W. Tomlinson and the Ontario Stone, Sand and Gravel Association filed notices of appeal of OPA 179.   The appeal letters from Tomlinson and the Association are identical and sent in by the same lawyer; they object to the policy for the rural area, citing lack of clarity. Taggart’s complains that its concerns expressed to Planning Committee were not addressed and that OPA 179 goes beyond the intention and requirements of the Provincial Policy Statement.

UPDATE – April 24, 2017

The initial Terms of Reference for the Working Group are here.  There are two industry representatives, along with FCA and the Alliance.  A first meeting was held on April 24 when a process for the year’s work was agreed upon.