The following is the motion I moved at council with my speaking notes (added document links) with respect to the PenEquity debate. The motion lost.
Motion: to refer back to staff the PenEquity Planning and Environment Committee recommendation as it is premature given the outstanding policy concerns involving the Ministry of Natural Resources surrounding the designation of the wetland, the policies of the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority policy prohibiting development in a wetland, the lack of an environmental impact study determining how the provincially significant woodland can be protected as a result of a proposed development on adjacent lands. It being further noted that the municipality will hire an ecologist to evaluate the wetland using the OWES and carry out the EIS.
Speaking Notes: Process
How we grow and develop in the city is outlined in our Official Plan (OP http://bit.ly/1e0T1O8). The Official Plan sets out the “rules” – objectives, policies and processes that guide the physical development of land. This document is critically important because our OP policies must be consistent with the provincial directives as outlined in the Provincial Policy Statements (PPS http://bit.ly/7x4lML) and other provincial legislation.
Not only is the OP our link between provincial and municipal policies, It is also our promise, contract, agreement with the community. The introduction advises the reader that the Official Plan will “Govern and serve as a guide to the decisions of Council” and further it states the OP “Informs the public of Councils intentions”. This clarity is important so that everyone plays by the same rules.
If a parcel of land has an unevaluated vegetation patch noted on OP Schedule B1, you will be asked to complete a Subject Land Status Report (OP 15.5.2). The SLSR requires assessment of the site to determine the status of the natural heritage features (staff has tried to evaluate this vegetation patch 10102, but the owner would not allow anyone on the land to carry out the necessary studies).
The conclusions of the SLSR determined a “Significant Woodland” and a unevaluated wetland, embedded within the woodland, as natural heritage features on the land (the woodland scored high in 5 of 8 criteria, well beyond the threshold for significance: 1 of 8. Guidelines for assessing Woodland Significance: http://bit.ly/16YVhSn).
With respect to “Significant Woodlands” and “Significant Wetlands”, the Provincial Policy Statements are clear: development and site alteration shall NOT be permitted in significant woodlands and significant wetlands unless it can be demonstrated that there will be NO NEGATIVE IMPACTS on the natural features or their ecological functions. It goes on to say development and site alteration shall not be permitted on ADJACENT LANDS to the natural heritage feature and area unless the ecological function of the adjacent lands has been evaluated and it has been demonstrated that there will be NO NEGATIVE IMPACTS on the natural features or on their ecological functions (emphasis mine).
Given our Official Plan must reflect provincial policies our OP says 15.5.2. B) If the Subject Lands Status Report identifies any lands that, in the estimation of the City, may meet the criteria for determining significance, the City shall require the preparation of an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for these lands.
15.5.1. ii) Environmental Impact Studies (EIS) are required where development or site alteration is proposed within or adjacent to components of the Natural Heritage System. The City will require that an Environmental Impact Study be completed to its satisfaction, in consultation with the relevant public agencies prior to the approval of an Official Plan amendment, Zoning By-Law amendment, subdivision application, consent application or site plan application.
An EIS requires the woodland/wetland to be evaluated over three seasons. This is to ensure the evaluation captures a comprehensive assessment of the features, functions, flora and fauna which often change with the season.
Aerial photography of this site from 1951 through to today depict the woods and small pond, prior to the 401 being built and prior to aggregate extraction on either side of the site. Surprisingly the massive extraction did not impact the woodland over decades. Contrary to misinformation, aerial photography shows the woodland/wetland was not formed as a result of the building of the 401 and it was not a former gravel pit as evidenced by the historical air photos. Some have made the erroneous assumption that the small lake where gravel was extracted is the wetland. The wetland is located within the woodland.
In closing, the Official Plan serves to guide the decisions of council and inform the public of our intention. It represents a contract, a commitment to be consistent with Provincial directives and public interest. This is about integrity in the planning process; it is about playing by the rules and following due process. If you are not going to stand for the Official Plan policies that represent our contract to the community then what are you standing for?