Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Half a victory - Push is on to save ALL Victoria Glen Park from development

We spent more than three hours last night at the Woolwich Township Council "Committee of the Whole" meeting to act on the staff recommendations to develop Victoria Glen Park woodlands.

Six people spoke who had registered ahead of time and at least that many came forward when the floor was opened to whoever wanted to speak. Presentations ranged from a thorough and technical hydrogeologic analysis rejecting the wisdom of the project to the high school student who had started the "THEY'RE TEARING DOWN ELMIRA'S FOREST ANYWAY! STOP THEM!!" Facebook Group which had attracted, by the time of the meeting, more than 800 very vocal members. (As I write this, the membership is up to 909 members.)

Staff members clarified and defended their information and processes.

Council members attempted to indicate where their sympathies lay on the issue.

It was a passionate and confusing meeting all around.

The high point: When councillor Ruby Weber spoke about how her first introduction to Victoria Glen Park was on a bus trip organized by township staff a few years ago to look at possible surplus lands (in late fall, post-leaves) and she had thought it looked just like "scrub bush"; then, this summer, she actually came down and walked the trail across the top of the woods "one end to the other," she said, "many times." And she was struck by what she called the "magic" of our woods and finally understood what our fight was all about.

The low point: Being lectured on how democracy and balanced planning operate by township staff -- as though we don't already KNOW these things as we have chosen to actively participate in the democratic process, providing that public input governments seem to always be so desperate for.

Some interesting points:
Sandra Shantz's observation that, if we save and re-zone ALL of the Victoria Glen Park woodlands, that would be roughly equal in acreage to Southwoods Park on the south edge of town; Gibson Park in the centre of town; and would provide an equivalent access to wooded park for people living on the north edge of town.

Murray Martin's observation that an undisclosed number of unidentified people at an unidentified "function" have indicated that the minority "special interest" group such as the hundreds of people present at the meeting (and the thousands who have signed petitions) need to bow to the majority wishes, and that they support this development.

The detail that, once Parcel 1 (north of the top trail) is taken out of the equation, the net profit to the township would be in the neighbourhood of $386,000 rather than the $1.4-1.9 million that had been estimated as profit for the whole project. (The profit for the remaining parcels would be so much lower because it would still COST @$1.4 million to develop that section).

The strange point - was it a low point or just a very confusing plateau?: Trying to make sense of the "compromise" motion on the floor that proposed that the complete staff recommendations go ahead with the exception of excluding Parcel 1 from the process (this would still involve a lot of costly staff and consultant work). The confusion came with Mark Bauman's contention, as maker of the motion, that all he really wanted was township staff to spend "a little time" working on the negotiations with the Region to purchase the parcel next to Parcel 2, which is the only way any development would be practical.

The motion passed: the three (male) non-Elmira councillors voted for it; the two (female) Elmira councillors voted against it, being very clear that they supported preserving ALL of the "subject lands".

The last points:
Mayor Strauss charged township staff with bringing back as much of the information that Councillor Bauman requested as they could to the November 10th meeting, next week, where the decision would be ratified.

It is clear, so far at least, that the intention of the whole council at this point is to initiate the process to re-zone the Victoria Glen Park woods NORTH of the top trail as parkland.

We left in a strange mix of euphoria at having saved half the woods, confusion over what was really happening with the compromise motion that was put forth, and determination to use this week to somehow ensure that next week's final vote, instead, begins the process to re-zone ALL of Victoria Glen Park as permanent parkland, accessible to all the public as that "magical" natural space we so treasure.

The next point: Next week's Tuesday meeting (November 10 at 7 pm) will include a final vote to ratify the compromise motion passed this evening. Or not. Delegations (speakers) are once again welcome (register by Thursday afternoon if you can) and we encourage EVERYONE to come out once again and bring our presence to bear on the decision-making process.

Thanks: to everyone who came out to the meeting, wrote and phoned and emailed the township councillors, spread the news of what was happening, spoke at the meeting last night, spoke to the media, etc., etc., etc. You are legion!

(And 1300 petition signatures + 900 people joining the Facebook protest group = at least 2000 people, 20% of Elmira's current population! A pretty good-sized sample of what very likely would turn out to be a majority if this were to be brought to a referendum!)

[Special thanks to Laurie Jonkman for our wonderful new logo, above right, and for providing stickers of that logo to all the supporters of Victoria Glen Park at last night's council meeting.]

1 comment:

  1. Excellent summation-- we must have been at the same meeting.

    I thought the water table hydrology report that Susan Bryant presented at the June meeting was serious enough, but Professor Petrone's talk on November 3 certainly brought home the point that building on a slope is bad enough, but a slope above an important creek could very easily prove fatal to the creek. Because it is such a small ecosystem already, it certainly sounds dangerous to do major construction on any part of the Victoria Glen lands.

    Kudos to Murray Martin for admitting that he needs additional information since the hydrology info was new to him. And of course I understand his desire not to rely on the expert advice of a stakeholder. That's good public stewardship.

    Since they passed Councillor Bauman's motion to proceed with the studies required to answer all the unanswered questions, it's pretty clear that the most important study to do first would be the hydrology study. I don't know enough about it to know what would be required for a study like that, or if it could even be done before the meeting next week when they are expected to vote on whether to proceed with studies needed before any development of Victoria Glen could proceed.

    Fortunately both Council and residents are agreed that damaging the creek is not an option for the community.