Tuesday, November 10, 2009
That was last week.
This is this week.
Tonight, the Woolwich Council voted unanimously to accept the Staff memo recommending the land not be surplussed, no residential development be undertaken, and the land come under consideration for re-zoning later this year or early next when the Official Plan revision is undertaken.
As one of the loyal supporters of Preserving Victoria Glen Park said, "we showed the community that when you feel strongly about something being right, you CAN affect political decisions!"
Of course, we'll keep an eye on this, and everyone is encouraged to get involved in the Official Plan review when it comes around to make sure the woods is protected - which the council indicated was their intent, but they need to follow the correct "processes."
In the meantime, though, WOOOO-HOOOOOO!
"The consultation process for Victoria Glen clearly illustrated that the social, educational, spiritual, recreational, historical, ecological, and cultural value of the Township-owned parcels (Parcels 1, 2, and 3) cannot be outweighed by any funds that could be generated by the options described in this memorandum.
Therefore, Staff recommend that Council support Option 4, as follows:
- do not declare the Township-owned lands (Parcels 1, 2, and 3) surplus;
- do not proceed with residential development on Parcels 1, 2, and 3;
- review the land-use designation of the Subject Lands as part of the Official Plan Review Process; and,
- suspend negotiations for the Purchase of the Region-owned land (Parcels 2 and 4).
Staff would like Council to note that the existing sanitary sewer in the unopened road allowance shown on Map 1 will be upgraded in the next few years which will create some level of disturbance to the general area. Staff will communicate the timing of this project to Council and the public as soon as possible.
Through the 2010 budget process Staff will report back to Council with options for managing the funding implications of not proceeding with the deposition of the Victoria Glen lands."
There will need to be a vote by council tonight, of course - but things are looking brighter than they have for a long time. The five-page memo was careful, thoughtful, and as thorough as they could be given the constraints Council put on the process.
Still: do come out tonight to the meeting at 7!
If all goes as it looks like it might, we can applaud Council for their wisdom in accepting the Staff proposal!
(The 5-page memo with the complete staff recommendations will be posted to the Woolwich Township website - www.woolwich.ca - as soon as their "web person" can do it, according to staff. This should be sometime this afternoon yet.)
Monday, November 9, 2009
One of the "Friends of Victoria Glen Park" who is a wizard with various computer functions has put together this map, using the Google Maps satellite view of Elmira. The brightly coloured rectangle in the upper right is Victoria Glen Park -- the bright red section is the proposed development south of the upper trail in the woods. All the larger pink sections are sections that either have been developed in the last 10 years or so or are proposed for development in the near future.
This prompts the BIG QUESTION: why do they need to sacrifice any of the Victoria Glen Park woods for the relatively few houses it would yield in the face of all the recent development (and the proposed 900 houses in the Lunor development west of town)?
Oh yes, to pay for "capital projects."
Destroying part of the woods -- and putting at risk the rest -- for a one-time cash-out of the relatively small amount of $368,000 (which wouldn't even be realized until after a whole lot of spending for reports and infrastructure) just plain doesn't make sense.
Here are links to the map, reproduced above, and to another of just the "subject lands" in the Township report -- note that widening the trail to the 66 feet required of a street will take up a fair bit of the parcel last week's vote established as land they wanted to save...:
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Friday, November 6, 2009
Victoria Glen project comes to the end of the line."
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Six people spoke who had registered ahead of time and at least that many came forward when the floor was opened to whoever wanted to speak. Presentations ranged from a thorough and technical hydrogeologic analysis rejecting the wisdom of the project to the high school student who had started the "THEY'RE TEARING DOWN ELMIRA'S FOREST ANYWAY! STOP THEM!!" Facebook Group which had attracted, by the time of the meeting, more than 800 very vocal members. (As I write this, the membership is up to 909 members.)
Staff members clarified and defended their information and processes.
Council members attempted to indicate where their sympathies lay on the issue.
It was a passionate and confusing meeting all around.
The high point: When councillor Ruby Weber spoke about how her first introduction to Victoria Glen Park was on a bus trip organized by township staff a few years ago to look at possible surplus lands (in late fall, post-leaves) and she had thought it looked just like "scrub bush"; then, this summer, she actually came down and walked the trail across the top of the woods "one end to the other," she said, "many times." And she was struck by what she called the "magic" of our woods and finally understood what our fight was all about.
The low point: Being lectured on how democracy and balanced planning operate by township staff -- as though we don't already KNOW these things as we have chosen to actively participate in the democratic process, providing that public input governments seem to always be so desperate for.
Some interesting points:
Sandra Shantz's observation that, if we save and re-zone ALL of the Victoria Glen Park woodlands, that would be roughly equal in acreage to Southwoods Park on the south edge of town; Gibson Park in the centre of town; and would provide an equivalent access to wooded park for people living on the north edge of town.
Murray Martin's observation that an undisclosed number of unidentified people at an unidentified "function" have indicated that the minority "special interest" group such as the hundreds of people present at the meeting (and the thousands who have signed petitions) need to bow to the majority wishes, and that they support this development.
The detail that, once Parcel 1 (north of the top trail) is taken out of the equation, the net profit to the township would be in the neighbourhood of $386,000 rather than the $1.4-1.9 million that had been estimated as profit for the whole project. (The profit for the remaining parcels would be so much lower because it would still COST @$1.4 million to develop that section).
The strange point - was it a low point or just a very confusing plateau?: Trying to make sense of the "compromise" motion on the floor that proposed that the complete staff recommendations go ahead with the exception of excluding Parcel 1 from the process (this would still involve a lot of costly staff and consultant work). The confusion came with Mark Bauman's contention, as maker of the motion, that all he really wanted was township staff to spend "a little time" working on the negotiations with the Region to purchase the parcel next to Parcel 2, which is the only way any development would be practical.
The motion passed: the three (male) non-Elmira councillors voted for it; the two (female) Elmira councillors voted against it, being very clear that they supported preserving ALL of the "subject lands".
The last points:
Mayor Strauss charged township staff with bringing back as much of the information that Councillor Bauman requested as they could to the November 10th meeting, next week, where the decision would be ratified.
It is clear, so far at least, that the intention of the whole council at this point is to initiate the process to re-zone the Victoria Glen Park woods NORTH of the top trail as parkland.
We left in a strange mix of euphoria at having saved half the woods, confusion over what was really happening with the compromise motion that was put forth, and determination to use this week to somehow ensure that next week's final vote, instead, begins the process to re-zone ALL of Victoria Glen Park as permanent parkland, accessible to all the public as that "magical" natural space we so treasure.
The next point: Next week's Tuesday meeting (November 10 at 7 pm) will include a final vote to ratify the compromise motion passed this evening. Or not. Delegations (speakers) are once again welcome (register by Thursday afternoon if you can) and we encourage EVERYONE to come out once again and bring our presence to bear on the decision-making process.
Thanks: to everyone who came out to the meeting, wrote and phoned and emailed the township councillors, spread the news of what was happening, spoke at the meeting last night, spoke to the media, etc., etc., etc. You are legion!
(And 1300 petition signatures + 900 people joining the Facebook protest group = at least 2000 people, 20% of Elmira's current population! A pretty good-sized sample of what very likely would turn out to be a majority if this were to be brought to a referendum!)
[Special thanks to Laurie Jonkman for our wonderful new logo, above right, and for providing stickers of that logo to all the supporters of Victoria Glen Park at last night's council meeting.]
Monday, November 2, 2009
The council meeting to consider the staff recommendation to "surplus" 62% of the Victoria Glen Park forest for residential development is tomorrow, Tuesday, November 3rd at 6 pm in the township hall on Church Street in Elmira.
- talk to all your neighbours and friends and children. Tell them about the proposal and urge them to come to the council meeting.
- read the report (link is over to the right on this page) so you know how weak and how greedy this proposal is
- come to the meeting - the more people we have there showing that there is HUGE outrage about this issue, the better
- contact the Woolwich mayor and councillors and let them know your opposition to development (there's a link, in the right column, to their contact emails and phone numbers)
Remember: the meeting is at 6 this Tuesday!
Saturday, October 31, 2009
I guess I'm old and not near forceful enough: one of the high school students who lives on the east side of the Victoria Glen Park forest started another Facebook page this week, this one called "THEY'RE TEARING DOWN ELMIRA'S FOREST ANYWAY! STOP THEM!!"
He's already got 533 members and has had a pretty passionate online discussion going since last Tuesday - with lots of posts expressing young people's appreciation and valuing of the woods.
Go visit if you can!
Sounds like more than a few of them plan to come to the meeting too.
(Sample discussion posts:
"that land is full of animals and walking trails. in the swinter you can skate on the creek. you can take a friend on date to the big white rock or watch the fish eat bugs. please dont take this from us."
"I talk to these guys and they're most courteous about listening. The trees, that is, not the people tearing them down."
"Nooo not the forest too many memories")
I thought those of you who know the woods would enjoy these and appreciate the reminder of what we're fighting for. And those visitors, just stopping by to check us out, can see that this isn't just a bit of fairly new plantation woods, but a precious natural space loved by many.
(The photo at the top of this post is from Laurie's photos from the September picnic. It really is too bad none of the township councillors who were invited to join us could attend - it was a beautiful day in the woods.)
Friday, October 30, 2009
Elmira Newspapers: "it is our hope that Woolwich councillors will do what is right, not what can be justified"
The stories are clear on the issues and on the passion of Elmira and area citizens on the unacceptability of developing one of the few remaining pieces of real natural space in the town of Elmira.
The editorials, while giving a nod to the difficult position staff was in preparing the report, recognize that council can still act in wisdom and on the wishes of the citizens they were elected to represent and decline the recommendations for development.
The Independent editor writes that, if they do decide to reject development, it's true they'll have to find another way to pay for the capital expenditures, "Yet, that seems like a small price to pay in exchange for keeping something that cannot ever be replaced, once it is gone."
And the Observer observes that "If councillors are tuned in to the public sentiment, the proposal is dead in the water, but governments aren’t always responsive to community demands."
Here are the links:
"Staff report supports development of park" (Independent news story)
"Victoria Glen Park must be preserved" (Independent editorial)
"Showdown looms over Victoria Glen development plan" (Observer news story)
"Park debate shape of things to come" (Observer editorial)
The Observer cartoon, "The View From Here", reproduced above, has the caption: "The ax-or-tax dilemma: Victoria Glen supporters face $1.5-million “treat: or a level-the-park “trick.”" Note the lumberjack's nametag - and his "Tricks for you, treats for me" balloon. Sounds about right to me.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
She clarified that there would actually be decisions made BOTH on November 3rd and November 10th:
"I was reviewing the Victoria Glen blog and noticed that it states that only discussion will take place on November 3rd, and the vote will take place on November 10th. This is not accurate and I wanted to make sure that you had the correct information prior to the November 3rd, 2009 meeting, as follows:
* At this point there may be votes on November 3rd, 2009 (Committee of the Whole voting on the recommendations to bring the decisions forward to Council) AND on November 10th, 2009 (Council voting on Committee of the Whole recommendations)."
This is important to know -- as well as the fact that the public is welcome to both meetings (and, in each case, delegations must register by the Thursday before the meeting - which is tomorrow -- the 29th of October -- for the first meeting).
We need to see you there to bring a very, very clear response to the report that is being presented to Council: there is not enough fact or moral rationale presented to justify destroying any of that woods for development when hundreds and hundreds of residential lots have already been approved just west of town.
And paying for the already-built hockey rink by destroying just as valuable a resource for "healthy community" living -- another supposed township "priority" -- is NOT representing the "spirit of hockeyville" the council endorsed last year.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Woolwich Township staff released their report today, recommending that nearly 3 acres of the most accessible and most used section of Victoria Glen Park be surplussed and sold for residential development.
The report is available from the Township office in print, as a pdf copy on the township website, and now, one of our loyal Friends of the Park has posted the text online (in case you have trouble with the pdf file) on victoriaglenparkphotos.wordpress.com (she also has photographs from our September picnic posted at the end of the page, as well).
Make sure everyone you know has access to a copy, reads it, and lets the Township know this just isn't acceptable!
Here's the report in pdf format: http://www.woolwich.ca/en/newsevents/resources/A6-2009-VictoriaGlen.pdf
Here's the link to the Township page, with the meeting announcements and other links:
In my naive optimism, I had thought they were listening to the community. In fact, the report recommends what they call "balanced development" - which looks like it means they're going to put big houses on both sides of the trail at the top of the woods and leave the rest. (the rest?)
I urge everyone to read the whole report, contact the Township Council with your reactions (the link to the right has their email addresses and telephone numbers, as well as the town hall address to which you can send letters.) and get ready to work together to stop this.
Also consider writing to the local newspapers -- the Elmira Independent, the Woolwich Observer, even the Record. Next weekend's papers would be the only local ones before the meeting, so letters should be in by midweek.
Note on the procedure:
They will be considering this report at the November 3rd council meeting (starts at 6 pm), but won't be voting until the next week, on November 10th (that meeting starts at 7 pm).
PLEASE attend both meetings.
And if you want to speak, remember to register by the Thursday before the meeting.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
#1, concerning the staff report on the surplussing of Victoria Glen Park:
"The Staff Report will be complete late this week and will be posted on the Township's website as soon as it is ready. In addition, I will send it to you in a PDF format. There will also be copies of the report at the Township Administration Building."
As soon as it's available, we need to spread the word to people without email to go pick up a copy. If you have email and haven't heard from her, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to request a pdf copy of the report when it comes out. I'll make sure and post the report and/or a link to the township webpage when it's available.
#2, I emailed her last evening about details for the Council meeting to discuss the report, and received this reply this morning:
"The meeting is on November 3rd, 6pm. Council will be considering Township Staff's recommendations and will vote. Yes, there are opportunities to speak as a delegation."
So: we need to make sure we pack that hall like we did last time, and everyone who wants to say something, be sure to register with the township to speak (from the township website: "Your request to appear as a delegation at any Committee or Council Meeting should be received by the Clerk by 5:00 p.m. on the Thursday before the meeting [that would be Thursday, October 29th] so that you may be listed on the agenda. To register as a delegation call 519-669-1647 Extension 6009 or 6005." Each individual speaker is considered a "delegation".)
Friday, October 16, 2009
This email came from a concerned Elmira friend - one with much experience (and advanced degrees) in environmental matters:
"This is not just 'greenspace' we are trying to save but an even rarer bird 'natural space', and there is not much left of it around here. Along with freshwater, it is our societal/moral responsibility to protect these spaces. Surplus greenspace is an oxymoron; surplussing natural space is just moronic!"
An important factual point.
A pointed observation!
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Concerned neighbours have been pushing township staff to let us know both details about the meeting and about when the report itself will be available. Here is some of that information, from one of the very involved Victoria Glen Park neighbours:
"At this point we have now been told that the report will NOT be mailed out. We have to pick it up. It is 30 pages long. It looks like they have contacted various groups (i.e., GRCA, etc.) to get their input. It should be ready the Tuesday before. [that would be October 27th - two weeks from today]
I certainly hope that the township office will follow through by advertising this in the local papers or phoning all who requested it. Perhaps if you were one who wanted the report, it would not hurt to start bugging Laurel Davies-Snyder about how you are going to get it!
Here is the cruncher...Apparently if we do have the meeting on Nov. 3 it is OUR LAST CHANCE TO TALK. Unless deferred, they will vote that night. (At least this is what Laurel says.) Sometimes I get several versions of how the council process is supposed depending on who I talk to up there. I might email councillors to see how they think it is supposed to go.
This means we have one week from when we get the report to deciding what we are going to say. I just wanted to update you all so you can start thinking about our next strategies.
I would like to still think that despite the fact that it might look good (worst case) as a development on paper, the PEOPLE OF ELMIRA HAVE SAID NO! It worked for Kitchener!!!
Trees forever folks!!!"
I'll keep people updated: in the meantime, do get in contact with your township councillors (contact information is available in the links in the right-hand column) and with Laurel Davies-Snyder, the township's Economic Development & Tourism Officer, at 519-669-1647, extension 6020 or 519-669-2030.
The difficulty in getting the report and the possible finality of a decision only a week after it's made public are just plain frightening. (Interesting detail, looking at the Council meeting calendar on the website: this is NOT one of their televised council meetings...)
What else can we do to ensure that Victoria Glen Park is re-zoned park/greenspace forever?
Friday, October 2, 2009
Well, not quite. The Observer reports that, while they did approve this debenture through the Region,
"There is, however, one remaining issue: the township is depending on $1.6 million from the sale of surplus properties as part of the financing package. The larger assets include the old township halls and the former Elmira pool property, but most contentious is a plan to sell part of Victoria Glen Park as a site for residential development in Elmira’s north end. In the wake of strong public opposition, the township is now looking at alternatives for replacing funds expected from that development. A report is due later this month."
So, we still have to convince the Township councillors that cutting down those trees for development, and thereby rendering the rest of the woods virtually inaccessible for use by the public, is not acceptable. They have to know that there are huge community, environmental, economic, aesthetic, heritage reasons to re-zone the woods as permanent parkland - and not to sacrifice it for their building projects after the fact.
(Township Council contact information is available in the links on the right.)
Monday, September 21, 2009
The video is available on their website: "Elmira residents concerned over future of their parkland"
Now, isn't that an incredibly beautiful woods?
Monday, September 14, 2009
for a Picnic in
Victoria Glen Park
from 2-4 pm.
Learn about Victoria Glen:
- Hear stories about Victoria Glen's past
- Explore the forest and see the wildlife
- For the nature walk, you may want to bring binoculars or a camera and a water bottle
- What we bring we take out again
- It makes sense to bring our picnic snacks in reusable containers
- You might bring either a folding chair or a blanket
- Enjoy nature while collecting litter
- Participants in the forest clean up should consider wearing sturdy shoes and work gloves.
Hosted by the friends of Victoria Glen Park
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
1) On the Woolwich Trails working group site, the "Volunteer Work Parties" schedule included "Work Party at Victoria Glen Park, Elmira; Saturday, October 16." Not sure what this means in the great scheme of things, but there is contact information listed at www.healthywoolwich.org/trails_group.htm
2) Looking around the Healthy Communities site even more, I found a list of "Guiding Principles" that have been developed for the healthy community initiative. There was a link on that page to a chart that included those principles to be used by community groups making "large decisions" (gee, is the township council a community group?). It was tempting to limit my attention to the "Improvement of the Environment" principle -- but looking closer, preserving the Victoria Glen Park woods would mean positive marks in ALL 9 principles.
Maybe this chart is something we can use -- take a look at www.healthywoolwich.org/principles.htm
Everywhere I look -- in our township and region official plans, at initiatives by great numbers of community leaders, at our local history -- developing even part of this woods makes absolutely no sense at all!
Monday, September 7, 2009
We have two very basic agenda items:
1) We need to plan a strategy for what to do if the Township decides to go ahead with their plan to surplus the forest to pay for the township hall renovations and the new arena.
2) We need to figure out how we can, as a public group, put in a formal request that the park be rezoned.
Anyone who is interested in helping to keep the effort to preserve Victoria Glen Park as parkland is welcome! Please pass to word to others.
We don't have a firm date yet for when the township staff report will be presented to council -- sometime in late September or early October is the closest suggestion. Anyone at the public meeting last spring who signed in is supposed to get a copy of the report ahead of time. In any event, we're keeping in contact with the township as much as we can and will let people know as soon as we know when the report will be submitted and when the next council meeting that will deal with this is scheduled.
It's been a lovely summer in the woods -- more birds than I ever remember! (and all of them waking up before 5 a.m., of course, in full song.)
In this weekend's Elmira Independent (September 4), there was a letter to the editor on page 7 titled "Save the Park." Since the Independent doesn't include letters to the editor on its webpage, I'm including the text here:
"TO THE EDITOR:
"I am writing you as a Grade 5 student from Riverside Public School, on behalf of preserving Victoria Glen Park. Victoria Glen Park is worth saving. If you think about it there is not any other place like it. It's a perfect mixture between country and a town. That is what we want, isn't it?
"Victoria Glen Park is a great learning facility for all ages. Animals have learned to have that as their home. If you take it down now where are they going to go? The dumpster? If you cut down the trees think of all the loss of old growth. Plus what is going to happen to the stunning creek that runs through the park? It's going to get polluted.
"Not only will you be affecting wild life in this forest but it will travel. Think of all the hearts you will be breaking. And think of all the animals' lives you will be saving. Is it worth it?
"We have lots of other subdivisions that can be used. Why are you taking away the most beautiful and lively spot for more houses? We need that more than ever. If they want a house in Elmira they can accept what we have.
"SAVE VICTORIA GLEN!"
Friday, August 14, 2009
I remember, when we lived for a few years in the middle of the prairie in Alberta, being amazed at how my view of the natural world was sometimes light-years apart from people in the town: one of our neighbours cut down a lovely tree on her lot because it was "too messy - every fall all those leaves drop all over".
I think we're going to need to keep a close eye on this issue and not take for granted that the Powers that Be have the same sensibility we do when it comes to valuing the woods for all the reasons outlined at the public meeting. However -- they are our elected representatives and they need to know that many, many hundreds of people want that woods preserved. Period.
While I poke around the site, I did find the minutes from the June 23rd public meeting on the parkland. Take a look and see if you think it reflects the depth and intensity of the presentations.
It's been a fine summer next to the woods. Neighbours report that more people than ever are making there way down here to walk the paths -- many who hadn't really known it was there until the publicity this spring and many who have realized "you don't know what you've got until it's [almost!] gone".
Let's keep up our vigilance and make sure that this woods is one that won't go anywhere!
(The poster, above, was on the bulletin board at Foodland most of the summer.)
Thursday, July 23, 2009
On the Woolwich Observer website, partway down on the right side of the page under "Forums," they've established one devoted to saving Victoria Glen Park: "Open Discussion: Victoria Glen"
So far, there is only the original post (which has links to the news story and the editorial the weekend after the public meeting) plus one other comment.
I suggest that those of you committed to preserving the Park as greenspace go on over and join in the conversation and keep the issue up front. They've provided a public forum -- let's make use of it!
And while we're at it, they also have a set of 15 photos from the public meeting posted in their "Image Gallery" for June 27th: "Council Meeting - Victoria Glen."
(And thanks, Observer folk)
Monday, July 6, 2009
Let each one of them know what you think.
We need to persist in our efforts not only to keep this development from happening but to have the woodland rezoned so it will remain park for future generations!
Mayor Bill Strauss
Write to them at Township of Woolwich
24 Church Street West, Elmira, Ontario N3B 2Z6
The July 4th Woolwich Observer published a "Letter to the Editor" by Laurie Jonkman of Elmira that included these comments:
"Victoria Glen plans harmful to ecosystem"
"Victoria Glen Park was established as parkland early in the 20th century. It was rezoned residentional in 1948 in the belief that it would be needed to provide accommodations for returning veterans in tha face of a housing shortage. Yet, Elmira managed to get by without bulldozing the valuable nature preserve.
More than 60 years later, Woolwich Township council is looking to bulldoze Victoria Glen Park. The purely pragmatic reason is to realize conservatively $1 million (or maybe two) from the sale of land for residential development.
But Victoria Glen is even more valuable to our community as green space. There is so little natural forest left. As parkland, it costs the municipality nothing. Destroying even a small portion of the forest would serously damage if not destroy the forest's ecosystem.
At the June 23 public meeting, Councillor Ruby Weber expressed surprise that there was more to the presentations than "just" emotion. Her implication seemed to be that emotional arguments for preserving our environment weren't as important as council's desire to realize a profit from the sale of this nature preserve.
I guess she doesn't realize that emotional attachment is the glue that holds a community together....
Rather than destroying Victoria Glen Park, Woolwich should restore it to the original zoning designation as parkland and preserve this irreplaceable public green space for now and forever."
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Monday, June 29, 2009
The title of the cartoon was "Victoria Glen" and the caption read "Money may not grow on trees, but Victoria Glen Park’s forest is seen a potential cash cow for Woolwich." (I've put the link over in the list in the right column).
A neighbour emailed yesterday and said, "check out the name of the guy with the chainsaw" in the cartoon...
The drama continues. And we're not letting up!
Friday, June 26, 2009
The Elmira Independent posted this week's articles about an hour ago -- and they are as clear and strong as the Observer's.
Both the main article -- which did a good job of summarizing several of the presentations -- and the editorial in no uncertain terms stood with those opposed to the "disposal" of the parkland:
"We are hopeful that members of Woolwich council heard this argument loud and clear, and will heed the passionate, intelligent and articulate pleas they heard from young and old this week."
As with the Observer articles, I've posted the links over in the righthand column.
The photograph accompanying this article shows Ken Reger, local naturalist and Elmira resident for 70+ years, making his presentation to council based on decades of closely observing the abundant and, in some cases, rare birdlife in the forest.
Thanks to Gail Martin, Independent editor, for expressing all this so well.
("That should have been more prominent in the PowerPoint presentation," according to David Brenneman, township CAO -- just like the photographs of the land in question in that PowerPoint shouldn't have been primarily gravel road shots at the east end of the park + one barely-focussed shot of the trail, but clear, green shots of the actual woods they are talking about "disposing" of. Check out the photographs under "links" in the right column for a fairer picture of reality.)
Both the main news article, "Sale of Parkland to fund township building blitz," and the editorial, "Resistance called for when change isn't for the better" (the links to both are in the righthand column on this page) have mechanisms in place for comments at the end -- I would urge all Friends of Victoria Glen Park to keep on commenting!
And thanks, Steve Kannon of the Observer, for listening and reporting accurately! (The photo, above, is of Susan Bryant presenting to Council at the Public Meeting, reprinted from this week's Observer)
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
For two or more weeks, the question, "why is this happening?" and "are you doing this for the money?" met with the answer, "oh, we're looking at all township lands, looking at possibilities -- but nothing is planned, so don't panic. We do this every year."
In marked contrast, Mayor Strauss ended the meeting looking straight at the Planning staff across the room, who are responsible for preparing the report and recommendations on what to eventually do about the "disposal" of Victoria Glen Park, and told them "when you prepare that report, keep in mind that if you agree with preserving the park, you need to come up with a way to pay for the shortfall for the new arena, since all along, that has been the goal of selling this land." (not a direct quote - but the meaning was clear).
Needless to say, the rumbling in the room was vigorous. So many people have been saying this all along, but tried to take the word of the township and township councillors at face value.
There was a definite sense that the people of Elmira felt betrayed.
(Destroying the woods to pay for an arena: I'm trying real hard not to use terms like "blood money", since that might be a bit melodramatic. But it's close, really close.)
On the other hand, I realized some time after that meeting that Mayor Strauss may have been showing a great deal of courage making that statement in public. He could easily have waited until Thursday morning and sent an email to the staff, telling them the same thing. Instead, he did say it out loud in a public forum, knowing exactly how the audience would react.
So - the story unfolds.
We'll definitely be keeping an eye on this one!
[Note: the photo above is of three of the letters written by pupils at Riverside Public School about the park. The top one begins: "Dear Mayor Strauss, Don't disstroy Victoria Gleen park. If you distroy victoria gleen Park because it will kill all the animals that live in the park and it will kill ever thing that lives there."]
Fourteen people had registered as "delegations" to talk and another half dozen came up and talked after these comments.
Seems like the council noticed the "passion" in the room -- at the end of the meeting the chair, Councillor Ruby Weber, commented that they had expected mostly emotional pleas and were surprised at the new information and facts that were presented and would take those in consideration when making a decision. I think they can count on this group holding them to that!
The presentations ranged from a description of the 60 different species of birds that live in the woods -- including fairly rare ones like warblers and hawk owls -- to a detailed, technical powerpoint presentation of the dangers to the stream below the proposed development (prepared with input from two Elmira residents who also happen to be hydrologists teaching at Laurier and at UW) to a description of the history of the park (Victoria Glen Park, also known by locals as Reservoir Park) to an amazing video of photographs of Riverside School students doing a nature lesson in the park.
There were speakers across the spectrum of ages -- senior citizens and middle-aged and parents with children at their sides and Gen X's and high school students.
Both Elmira papers were there, of course, but so was the CKCO reporter and camera. (I put a link to the right to the news item on the CKCO evening news last night)
On a personal note -- I was so very proud of my neighbours and the other Elmira residents who filled the council chambers and who made presentations. So many people there that I knew and so many that I didn't.
Canadians are know for their reserve and respect for rules -- there wasn't even any audible grumbling when people were told at the beginning that their comments were limited to 5 minutes, when as recently as 3 pm, we were told each delegation had 10 minutes and most people had timed their material to fit that limit. However, three times the chair had to firmly remind the group that applause was not allowed during council meetings. After that she gave up -- the group repeatedly greeted strong presentations with spontaneous (and noisy) approval.
This isn't the end of the story. Whatever Township staff recommends in October, Elmira residents will definitely be paying attention and will be there to make sure the right thing is done.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Kitchener Council credited the determination of the public for reversing its decision to sell off four separate chunks of parkland. From what I've heard and observed these past two weeks, Elmira determination is nothing to be trifled with.
We showed last winter during the Hockeyville campaign that we are a community that pulls together. The strength of feeling people have for this piece of woods in Victoria Glen is every bit as strong as the collective love of hockey!
See you tonight.
Angie Hill from the KOOL-FM morning show (who also lives in Elmira) said she'd mention our campaign this morning on her show -- did anyone hear?
Monday, June 22, 2009
First: take a look at last weekend's Elmira Independent and the Woolwich Observer. The Observer featured three of our most loyal neighbours who have been active in the Preserve Victoria Glen Park efforts ringed around one of the old-growth trees in the Park. There was also a good letter to the editor published in both papers from Ron and Bernice McTavish, who have lived on Dunke Street for 43 years. Here's an excerpt:
"During this period of time, we have seen many changes in the neighbourhood, but the one constant has always been the forest at the end of Dunke Street where the road meets Victoria Glen. This forest has meant a great deal to our family; our three children spent the majority of their childhood within its peaceful boundaries, riding bikes, building forts, and learning to appreciate the environment. Our five grandchildren are now enjoying the forest just as much as their parents did, and it is truly wonderful to see the next generation experiencing the simple beauty of nature right outside our door.
"We hope that the council will see how devastating the destruction of this forest would be to this neighbourhood, and that they will discard any future plans to develop this land which is anything but 'surplus.'"
Take a look at the link to Victoria Glen Park Photographs in the "links" section to the right. I've added a half dozen wonderful ones by a grade 10 fellow up on Riverside to the 3 dozen I've taken myself over the years. He has captured both the peace and beauty of the woods -- and one gorgeous green frog who makes its home in the creek!
Just a reminder to everyone to come out to the Woolwich Township Council Public Meeting on the matter of "disposing" of a large chunk of Victoria Glen Park as "surplus lands" tomorrow night, Tuesday, June 23 at 7 pm. This will be held in the new township hall on Church Street West in Elmira. The more concerned people who come to the meeting, the better!
Friday, June 19, 2009
Conclusion: this issue is turning out to be important to all ages and "demographics"!
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
"I am writing to express my concern on learning of the proposed subdivision of parcels of the wooded areas of the Victoria Glen park. My understanding is that the Region recognizes that there will be substantial population growth in Waterloo region and that this will occur soon. It is, as I understand it, urging the municipalities to try to find non- agricultural land to use to accommodate new residential growth and that it is recommending a higher population density where possible.
As a resident of Elmira for almost thirty five years, I have become intimately acquainted with its landscape and I know that there is now very little non-agricultural space available for residential development. That being said, it also makes absolutely no sense to use precious wood and marshland for residential growth.
We should all, as concerned citizens of Elmira, agree that our financial interests are not served by alienating this woodland. How does one assess the true value of that woodland to future generations? Certainly, the figure would vastly exceed that of the short-term profits realized from the sale of 22 serviced lots.
Where will the residents of Elmira find spots to walk in the woods in the future? It may well be that none of our town planners feel any need of this kind of solitude, but that does not mean that there are not countless residents of our town who do. It may be that our town planners feel that it is not important what happens to the flora and fauna that make their homes in the Victoria Glen.
Certainly, there is a wide spread feeling that we have a duty of stewardship for our environment and its denizens. Perhaps our town planners would argue that it doesn't matter if we cut down some of the only old growth forest left in our area. I doubt that there is any old growth forest in the space proposed for subdivision, but removing this treed area will certainly put serious stress on the adjacent space which very likely does.
Perhaps our town planners dispute the role of trees in cleaning the air that we breathe. However, the literature suggests that the role of wooded areas is crucial to purifying our air. As you can tell, I would argue that there are many reasons why it is quite simply wrong to subdivide these parcels. We have lost quite a lot of the last woodlands in Woolwich over the past few years, most recently for something as ephemeral as a Wal-Mart, heaven help us.
The township has included in its vision statement under Growth Management the following statement:
'Continue trails development as part of the local community planning process and involve community organizations in focus group sessions to ensure that sustainable community development and environmental stewardship remain priorities.'
Under Healthy Communities we find:
'Work closely with community environmental organizations and continue the commitment to environmental protection and enhancement initiatives.'
How does subdividing some of the last wooded space in our town tally with these statements? Are we to assume that they are no more than boiler plate? I want to point out that the area in question is adjacent to the only significant wet lands in Elmira. These depend for their environmental stability in some important ways on the adjacent woodlot which is already smaller than it should be.
I would like to respectfully suggest that Woolwich and the town of Elmira should concentrate on medium rise, high efficiency apartments in the older part of town, beginning with the core commercial space near the corner of Church and Arthur. This would help to rejuvenate the centre of the town, which has been seriously mismanaged over the past few years. If necessary, rezone some of the unused industrial lands at the North east part of town for residential use.
The other side of the coin would be a real demonstration of commitment to the environment and the health of our community. On the Woolwich web site, the Victoria Glen is called a park. It is time to show some real commitment to that concept. We should have a park that extends from Bolender Park to the wet lands to the west of Snider Avenue. There would be a bottle neck at the west end of Bolender Park, but it is possible to build a trail along the south side of the river under the Arthur street bridge. The trail could then connect with the existing Victoria Glen trail and form an important link in the proposed Elmira ring trail. It would pass through a remarkable variety of habitats.
Future generations will bless the foresight of our current council. They will use the trail for walking, cycling, and cross-country skiing. It is not unreasonable to hope that Elmira will attract visitors who will come for its lovely riverside park and nearby beautiful gardens (Doug Mooder and Flora Terra). This would not be without cost, one which would be temporarily increased by the decision not to sell these lots, but the cost of trying to remediate the damage in the future is bound to be infinitely greater.
Finally, consider for a moment, is there another place in Elmira that is naturally park land? Let's be generous in the allocation of park space. To diminish it undervalues ourselves and our future in the name of short term gain. As to the frogs, turtles, weasels (yes there are some and maybe even river otter), and muskrats who make Larch creek their home, they have no chance unless we pay much closer attention to what we do with our riverside resources and woodlots.
Treasurer, APT environment"
There was a variety of people:
a family of five -- mother, dad, two sisters and a brother
a group of mennonite women
a young man with his ipod, walking his dog
a young couple walking with an older couple
two middle-aged people on their bikes
All of them not only stopped, but read all the material on the table before signing the petition.
A variety of people, out for exercise in the fresh outdoors. By Victoria Glen Park. On purpose, I'm sure. Something to be encouraged, not frustrated. (And, obviously, no one mindlessly signed that petition!)
Monday, June 15, 2009
Address information can be found in "Woolwich Township Contact Information" under Links, in the right column (below).
If you can't deliver your letter by tomorrow (and it's obviously too late to mail one), the Township fax number for council is 519-669-1820.
In addition to the table at the Snyder Avenue end of the path through the top of Victoria Glen Park woods, petitions are now available at both Elmira Home Hardware (I was there Saturday and noticed it taped to the front counter) and at Foodland.
We added another 75+ names this weekend -- more than 50, in fact, on Sunday afternoon as people passed the woods on their way to and from the annual Memorial Service at the memorial woods down by the Kissing Bridge Trail.
One woman told how she drives to Victoria Glen Park from across Woolwich Township "because the path through the woods is level, and it's so hard to find accessible walking trails."
(Note: many people from around the region come to walk the trails through Victoria Glen Park -- the petitions that we have had at a table right by the woods have signatures from Kitchener, Waterloo, West Montrose, and beyond.)
It was noted that this is the only park in the north end of Elmira. People value green space: it's an important part of what makes Elmira an attractive town. As one neighbour said, "If people need a break, do they go to the park or to a parking lot?"
The general feeling was that we expect our mayor and councillors to value the beauty and role of Victoria Glen Park and to be sincere stewards of the environment.
And then there was the one pointed comment from a gentleman standing at the back of the room, commenting on the relative worth of petitions: "there is one thing easier than signing a petition: putting a check mark in the little box next to someone's name on a ballot."
Friday, June 12, 2009
Some of the comments from that meeting:
"I think 'surplus green-space' is the biggest oxymoron I have ever heard!"
"I would like all the members of Township Council to come with me at 5:30 in the morning every day for a week and walk through the forest, just to feel the peace."
"Since we, the tax-payers, are the actual owners of that woods, what value that is greater than the natural woods can the Township Council ensure us we will get by selling it?"
"There are environmental and historical and water issues, but on top of that it is just plain wrong to even consider cutting down that woods."
"I've counted 39 species of birds in the woods during the summer, and more than 50 species during the spring and fall migrations. This woods is a special place."
"The only owl I have ever seen in my 60+ years is in that woods."
Anyone else who was there who remembers comments that stuck with you?
While the councillors have said they would prefer personal letters from residents, we will continue to gather names on our petition as well.
The first weekend (June 6-7), we had a table at the head of the laneway going down to the Kissing Bridge Trail, beside the Victoria Glen Park woods.
We plan to have the table there again this weekend. If you are out for a walk by or through the woods, make sure and stop by to sign! Encourage your friends and neighbours and family to do the same.
If you would like to phone or email the Mayor or members of Council to express your opinion of "surplussing" the Victoria Glen Park woods, the information and direct email links can be found here:
Here are the Council members' phone numbers:
Mayor William L. Strauss, 664-1180
Councillor Sandy Shantz, Ward 1, 669-8981
Councillor Ruby Weber, Ward 1, 669-5459
Councillor Mark Bauman, Ward 2, 664-3318
Councillor Murray Martin, Ward 3, 664-1493
Encourage your friends and family to contact them as well!
Write to the Mayor and Township Council with your thoughts on why Victoria Glen Park must be preserved as greenspace rather than "disposed" of for residential development. (Letters received by June 15th will be included in the councillors' meeting packet for the June 23rd public meeting).
Mayor and Councillors, Township of Woolwich
24 Church Street West
P.O. Box 158
Elmira, Ontario N3B 2Z6
The more letters they receive, the stronger our case will be!
Tuesday, June 23, 7 p.m.
Council Chambers, 2nd floor,
24 Church Street West
Written submissions (that will be included in the councillors' meeting packages) should be at the Township office by Monday, June 15th.
It is suggested that, if you wish to speak at the meeting (as a "delegation"), you should register by Thursday, June 18th, with the Township office (Amanda at 669-6009 or Val at 669-6005).
The more people we can have at the meeting, the better!