One of my biggest complaints about suburban development is how builders often take a “bulldoze and build” approach, stripping away long-standing forests and natural areas. While there are some restrictions to prevent this, there aren’t always enough measures in the City’s policy toolkit to provide the necessary protection.
So I was really encouraged this week to see City Council unanimously approve a change to the Official Plan that should do more to proactively protect “significant woodlots” in the urban area.
Significant woodlands are defined as areas of forest more than 40 years old, and at least 0.8 hectares. “These criteria recognize that even small, urban woodlands have social and economic value in their surrounding communities,” the City said in a press release earlier this week.
A background document lists some of the benefits of urban trees, including air quality, physical and mental health, neighbourhood identity, reduced crime rates and higher property values.
Unfortunately, the policy isn’t retroactive, so any developments previously approved will not be subject to any changes. But in the future, we should see more of these small forests being saved and incorporated into new neighbourhoods.
“Fear God, be good, don’t cut down all the trees / just to build more things that we don’t need.”
–Jim Bryson, from his song “Ontario”
Also this week, Planning Committee received a report outlining options for protecting or acquiring three natural areas in and around Stittsville: Shea Woods, Poole Creek and the Fernbank Wetland.
The 2016 budget (also approved this week) includes $200,000 in funding to acquire land in the urban area. Part of that fund could help to purchase a 7-hectare segment of the SHEA WOODS, the cedar forest that’s well known to dog owners as Stittsville’s unofficial dog park.
“Staff are considering better ways to integrate the natural heritage system into the design of the community. Staff are considering an option to purchase a part of the woodlot and are also working on options to integrate part of the park space and stormwater management facility into the woodlot so more of Shea Woods can be conserved,” says the report.
Staff now need to negotiate a final purchase agreement with the developers who own the land, and more funding from other sources may be required.
(Related: Check out the Facebook group “Conserve the Shea Woods”.)
The report notes that the POOLE CREEK CORRIDOR, east of Stittsville Main Street, is “Mostly protected in City ownership or as constraint land. Privately-owned portions are being acquired as constraint land through adjacent development applications.” That constraint land is largely due to floodplain rules that restrict construction.
The third area mentioned in the report is the FERNBANK WETLAND, and this one was nothing positive. “The privately-owned portion was approved for development by the City and the Ontario Municipal Board. Development is underway.” That would be the land at 6279 Fernbank Road, soon to be known as “Porter Place”. (Some of the original wetland area was protected from development as an Urban Natural Feature (UNF).)
Here are copies of the reports and documents mentioned in this article.