Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Results of Last Night's City Council Vote

With a pro-development and development community-backed mayor holding the reins of power in our city, it's open season on woods and wetlands in London, Ontario. You know, those pesky parcels of land where trees take up space that could be so better utilized for shopping malls and where ponds only welcome aquatic wildlife, purify our water supply and maintain our water tables. No matter. What city needs more oxygenating green spaces anyway? Let's give the developers the right of way to pour their cement, pave over significant wooded areas, and derisively laugh at us all the way to the bank.

One councillor has tried to broker an imperfect peace, though. He may have appeased Council, but judging from the buzz I hear Londoners are generally not happy about how this all went down. I don't believe that I am exaggerating when I say that some councillors last night have lost the trust of the public for once and for all. A new call to action seems to be emerging from the twitterverse that suggests Londoners may have the 2014 municipal election already on their radar and plan to gear up to elect councillors that will listen, pay attention and be genuinely hyped to make this city a kinder, greener, healthier, smarter city for ALL to enjoy - not just for the enjoyment of developers with deep pockets.

Now it's up to the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority and the MNR. Unfortunately, Council's vote last night has put the cart before the horse. UTRCA and MNR should have been respectfully consulted before an approval was passed. Personal agendas and the pompous prattling of the uninformed should have taken a back seat to the logic and reason of science, intelligent analysis and inquiry. But it didn't.

And had the parcel of land been properly zoned in the first place, that is to say, by taking into account that the woods and wetland might be significant and by conducting an environmental assessment to determine significance, we wouldn't be where we are now.
Welcome to London.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Let's Not Pave Paradise

There is a stand of trees basking in the late August afternoon sunshine on Dingman Drive at Wellington Road. They are blissfully unaware of the controversy that swirls around them or of the “great debate” that could seal their fate tonight.

Pen Equity Real Estate wants to remove the trees and the pond entirely so that it can build its vision for a mega-mall, a shopping complex that we Londoners really don’t need or want, because we already have so many stores and malls sitting empty in our city.

The jobs Pen Equity promises are illusory.

The trees are not. They are real. They stand tall and proud, and we need to make sure that they do.

But this evening, London City Council could actually violate the official plan’s land use policy by choosing to ignore it entirely. A thorough and proper environmental assessment of this natural area must be undertaken before any re-zoning applications are approved or building permits granted. In fact, the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority should have been consulted from the outset, as there is a wetland on the site, and UTRCA policy states that if there’s a wetland, there’s no development!

City Council cannot flagrantly disregard official land use policy without jeopardizing the public’s trust and confidence. Londoners should be very angry if they do.

The Glanworth Community Association is angry, and here is the letter the GCA sent to Ward 14 Councillor, Sandy White, who seems to be unclear about City policy as it concerns environmental assessment procedure:
Dear Councillor White:
As the Glanworth Community Association (GCA) includes both Wards 12 and 14, I must convey to you today the sentiments of the GCA executive team on the matter of the Pen Equity proposed development, which involves the destruction of the Carolinian woodland and wetland at Dingman Drive and Wellington Road.
As you may know, we have been opposed to this development from the beginning, having submitted our objections early in the process to the planning department, in December 2012.
Our opinion has not changed. If anything, we are even more determined in our resolve to oppose it after the re-zoning recommendation reached at last week’s planning committee meeting. We know that you changed your mind on the issue and, frankly, we do not understand why.
For the record, the GCA would like to remind you before you vote this evening of what is at stake here. This is not about jobs. That has been the tactic of the pro-development community —  specifically, the “jobs at any cost” faction   to deflect attention from the real issue.
The real issue, Sandy, is one of Policy, and of violating the trust of the citizens of London. We have an official plan with strict guidelines about wooded areas deemed significant, and even Pen Equity’s ecological assessment rated this wooded area as “significant.” Those results stand as fact, despite Pen Equity’s attempts to twist the conclusions to suit their purpose.
Sandy, if Council ignores city policy tonight they are in fact breaking a contract they have with every Londoner, a contract assuring citizens that the City will engage in fair and due process and abide by its own policies and procedures. 
This woodlot deserves protection. London’s environmental organizations have been articulating this clearly and logically for months. And UTRCA policy is clear: development is not allowed in wetlands. Even the province has weighed in on this matter. MNR does not support the conclusions made that the wetland is “non-provincially significant.”
Countless community and citizen groups and individuals around this city have put forth fact-based scientific as well as moral and ethical arguments against the willful destruction of these woods and wetland.
Today, the GCA stands with them in opposing this development. The GCA stands with all Londoners who have spoken out against it.  
Sandy, the GCA does not want this mall development. This is urban sprawl at its worst. To allow this development is to allow the destruction of a woodlot and a wetland that cannot be replaced or “replanted” elsewhere to compensate. There is NO compensation package that would ever satisfy or appease us. The woods and the wetland must be protected, and we have the means to protect them only if our representatives follow policy and procedure.
Sandy, I think you know the members of the GCA very well by now. We fight for what we believe in with passion and commitment and we always strive to do the right thing for our community and for the greater community of London.
Working to find ways to protect the wooded wetland on Dingman Drive is the right thing to do.
Thank you,
Victoria White
President, Glanworth Community Association (GCA)
On behalf of the GCA Executive
August 27, 2013