A LETTER REGARDING COUNCIL’S DECISION ON THE VICTORIA MEADOW

LRG3 PRESS RELEASE DECEMBER 10 2014

CITY COUNCIL BLUNDERS IN RUSH-TO-JUDGEMENT ON VICTORIA MEADOW 

The  December 9 1:30 a.m. decision by Guelph City Council to approve a subdivision of 18 luxury homes on one of Guelph’s most scenic natural areas is a bad blunder according to LRG3 spokesperson Hugh Whiteley.  Despite a plea from the Mayor for Council to defer discussion until important questions raised by delegations had been answered the majority of Council, with only desultory discussion, passed a motion to approve the subdivision.

Whiteley points to three major aspects of this proposal, not dealt with in the staff report, that strongly support rejection of the proposal and which were entirely overlooked by City Council.

(1) Protection of Guelph’s water supply

The City of Guelph has, in the past, been far-sighted and prudent in prohibiting potentially polluting activities in the lands adjacent to its water supply wells in Puslinch Township. In 1970 Fred Woods, City Administrator, commended the wisdom of an earlier City Council in acquiring a large block of land adjacent to the Arkell Spring Grounds and another block adjacent to the Carter wells on Torrance Creek. This action, Mr Woods noted,  afforded protection to a resource then worth millions  (and now worth tens of millions).

The proposed subdivision at 781 Victoria is 300 m away from the Carter wells and immediately adjacent to the Arboretum Tributary of Torrance Creek that joins the main Torrance Creek at the location of the Carter wells. These wells draw water from Torrance Creek by induced infiltration as wellas from deeper groundwater.. The approval of the subdivision poses an appreciable threat to the water quality of both the tributary and the groundwater sources for the Carter wells.

Had the subdivision not been approved all of the subcatchment for the Torrance Creek tributary would have been protected as a natural area. This would afford full and proper protection to the Carter Wells by extending the protection area around the wells (and owned by the City) to the watershed boundary.

(2) Protection of Scenic Natural Areas

The City of Guelph’s Official Plan requires the City to “To preserve and enhance the existing protected views and vistas of Guelph’s built and natural features, identify potential new views and vistas and establish means to protect these from encroachments or discordant elements.”

The staff review of the 781 Victoria proposal made no reference to this obligation on the City in the Official Plan.

No assessment was made of the scenic value of the vista across the proposed subdivision site to the Significant Woodland, Significant  Wetland and Significant Valleyland that surrounds it.

The decision to permit the subdivision removes one of Guelph’s most attractive natural vistas and contradicts the requirement repeated in another section of the Official Plan To maintain and enhance natural river valleys, vistas and other aesthetic qualities of the environment.

(3) Restoration Areas to restore bio-diversity to the Natural Heritage System

The third issue concerning 781 Victoria overlooked in the staff analysis was opportunity to enhance the Natural Heritage System by adding the meadow as a Restoration Area.

One of the major goals of the 2001 Official Plan was to “Respect and encourage the protection and enhancement of the natural environment, other distinctive features of the landscape and the associated ecological functions to support a healthy and diverse ecosystem both within and beyond the City limits.

Enhancement of the biodiversity of the natural environment in Guelph is an urgent need. Meadow areas are the least protected Ecological Land Classification unit in Ontario. Both the 2004 Hanlon Creek State-of-the-Watershed Study and the 2009 Guelph Natural Heritage Strategy Final Report emphasized the perilous state and rapidly diminishing area of meadow land in Guelph. Both reports called for enhanced protection of meadows and the 2009 NHS Report called for conservation of cultural meadows, such as the one at 781 Victoria, especially in the south end of Guelph where the rate of loss of meadow was highest.

Having documented the loss of meadow land the 2009 NHS report identified areas where naturalization and restoration could help redress this loss. The report only dealt with city owned land as candidate areas for consideration. This deficiency was identified and the report recommended that “additional effort should be put towards identification of all potential naturalization and restoration opportunities in the City, on public and private lands, as time and resources permit.”

The Torrance Creek Subwatershed Study; Management Strategy (1999) identified the meadow at 781 Victoria as one of the few areas available in the Torrance Creek subwatershed for addition to the Natural Heritage System as a Restoration Area. The meadow was described as already well advanced in naturalization (from previous agricultural use early in the twentieth century) and the recommendation was made that this naturalization be allowed to continue to add biodiversity to the natural environment.

Despite the perilous state of meadows, the importance of restoring biodiversity, and the recommendations of the 1999 Torrance Creek Management Strategy and the  2009 Natural Heritage Strategy Report City Staff made no comment or recommendation for protection of the meadow at 781 Victoria as a Restoration Area.

It will be difficult for City Council to remedy the blunder made in approving the subdivision at 781 Victoria.  Nevertheless LRG3 asks that the decision be reviewed, not only in light of the three important local issues that were overlooked but because the decision contravenes The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the Provincial policy that requires the City to  Curb sprawl and protect farmland and green spaces. 

LRG3 also hopes that this blunder convinces both greenhorn councillors and the more experienced members of Council that full public consultation, comprehensive staff review,  and ample time for decision-making are essential prerequisites for wise decision making on planning issues.

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For more information contact Hugh Whiteley 519 824 935 or hwhitele@uoguelph.ca

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