Saving the South March Highlands - Pursuing the Possible

(click map to enlarge)

As the above map indicates only approximately one third of the South March Highlands are protected within the city owned South March Highlands Conservation Forest, although originally all the lands were zoned with environmental protection.

The way zoning works, as far as environmentally protected land is concerned, is that developers can apply for rezoning through the municipal process or by appealing to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) as many times as they want. If they lose they can keep coming back with new proposals using the outspend, outwait and outfrustrate strategy to combat environmentalists and communities that want to protect environmentally important lands. However once land is zoned for development it is virtually impossible to undo it - because that would be taking away landowners rights. The environment, apparently, has no such rights.

Indeed developers make a large portion of their profits from "political development" - buying protected land cheap and using their influence to get it rezoned for development and massively increased in value.

If you look at the zoning map below (with the protected land approximately indicated in orange) you will see that about half of the non-protected lands in the South March Highlands are developed or zoned for development, and about half are zoned as Environmental Protection Zone (EP) or Parks and Open Space Zone (O1). We know that the zoning does not provide protection as all the lands were originally zoned protected.

(click map to enlarge)

Zoning Codes Used on Map

Residential Third Density Zone R3
Residential Fifth Density Zone R5
Parks and Open Space Zone O1
Environmental Protection Zone EP
Agricultural Zone AG
Rural Residential RR
Rural Countryside Zone RU
Development Reserve Zone DR

So how do we set priorities in terms of protecting the undeveloped land from development.

One strategy, and one hard to argue with, is to focus on the most urgent threats to the land, which at the moment is the construction underway on the Terry Fox Drive Extension and the imminent start of work on the KNL housing development. This brave battle has been taken on by the Coalition to Save the South March Highlands (website in progress) and the I want to save the land North of Beaver Pond Park in Kanata Ontario Facebook Group. Unfortunately these are both very difficult battles to win.

The City seems determined to ignore its own demographic information indicating no urgent need for the road and to completely undermine the environmental assessment process in order to get free federal money for this environmentally devastating project. Everyday that construction continues we get closer to the point of no return. Perhaps the old saying needs to be rewritten to "free money is the root of all evil".

The battle over the KNL lands has been fought between the developers, the community and environmentalists for literally decades until the community just ran out of the ability to keep fighting. A brave last stand is underway but unless KNL can be convinced to sell the land and someone can be convinced to buy it and protect it, it's loss is inevitable.

But there is another strategy. One that can be undertaken alongside these brave attempts to stop the highway and save the KNL lands. It is a strategy that looks to the future - to save SMH lands before it becomes almost impossible to do so.

On November 10, 2000 the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton announced the purchase of 556 acres of the South March Highlands for $1.6 million at the urging of Kanata Regional Councillor Alex Munter who has stated his biggest achievement would be putting South March Highland into public ownership to keep it protected. These are the lands that along with Trillium Woods form the bulk of the currently protected lands in the South March Highlands Conservation Forest.

If one examines the zoning map you can see that an additional area of almost the same size within the South March Highlands is zoned either as Environmental Protection Zone (EP) or Parks and Open Space Zone (O1).

No matter what happens in the battles over the Terry Fox Drive Extension and the KNL development the City of Ottawa must move immediately to acquire this land, using it's expropriation powers if necessary, before it undergoes the "political development" process and it's value is increased. As it stands, there is very little the landowners can do with it other than pay taxes on it. The City would be doing them a favour by purchasing the land (their hopes of using their political influence to increase it's value being irrelevant).

It is clearly in the public interest to purchase these environmentally sensitive and important lands and it is becoming increasingly apparent that is also what the public wants.

This strategy is clearly very possible.

As to those pursuing the strategy of trying to achieve the near impossible - Keep up the battle you might yet succeed and if you do not you will have raised public awareness and moved public opinion in a way that hopefully provides City Council with the political will to do the possible and save two-thirds of the South March Highlands rather than one-third.

1 comment:

Marketing What's New said...

Thanks for raising awareness on this important issue. Feel free to hear new developments on the story by following the "I Want to Save the Lands North of the Beaver Pond" group on Facebook or by contacting me at http://twitter.com/heyglenns