Monday, June 29, 2009

Victoria Glen Trees + Political Cartooning

The issue of preserving Victoria Glen Park vs. "disposing" of it as "surplus" land for residential development not only garnered many column inches in the local papers the end of last week, but was the subject of "The View From Here" political cartoon by Scott Arnold in the Observer. (His cartoons are regularly hard-hitting and to the point).

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

And the Independent too: "The voices were loud and strong. We hope and trust they will be heard."

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.

Observer reporter got the message...

Today's issue of the Woolwich Observer minces no words at all in dealing with this week's Public Meeting on the Victoria Glen Park "disposal" issue. Both one of the main news features (I've just read it online - I don't know yet where in the issue the story is) and a hard-hitting editorial deal strongly and fairly with the public meeting and with the Township's "oh, gee, it was just an oversight that we didn't tell anyone we counted on the money from that woods way back when we commited ourselves to building a new arena and buying and renovating a new town hall..."

("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

The Public Meeting Bombshell

At the Public Meeting Tuesday night, Mayor Strauss had the last word, and oh what a word it was.

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."]

What a night!

Well, the council chambers were definitely full Tuesday night for the Public Meeting on the "disposal" of "surplus land" in Victoria Glen Park. (Although we were reminded that they weren't required to have a public meeting at all, but were doing it out of -- the goodness of their hearts?)

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

Ready to go for the Public Meeting

The woman I spoke to at the Township Office this afternoon said that 14 delegations have registered to speak at this evening's meeting. (My husband and I are #13 - don't know if I should worry about that). Considering many of those "delegations" are made up of more than one person - well, it seems like there may be a fair number of people in attendance.


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.

Listen today on the Gary Doyle Show

I just got an email from Gary Doyle who hosts the "Gary Doyle Show" on AM570 radio. This afternoon at 1:30 he will have our own Cheryl Fisher as a guest, talking about our effort to Preserve Victoria Glen Park. (If you were there, you'll remember Cheryl as being the chair of our neighbourhood meeting on June 10th, attended by 100+ people). Listen if you can -- and if it's a phone-in, well, phone in and let them know what you think!

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

Front page story, letters to the editor, and photographs

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!

Remember Tuesday's Public Meeting!

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

Working up to Tuesday's Public Meeting

This afternoon and evening, volunteers from the Friends of Victoria Glen Park had a table outside the "out" doors at Elmira Foodland. I sat there for an hour or so with a Grade 10 student who lives up on Riverside who had already been there at least an hour! (The table featured a half dozen photos he had taken in the woods).

We talked to a lot of people -- 20 or 30 in the hour I was there -- most of whom were very definite in their support for preserving the woods as parkland and in their opposition to treating it as "surplus" available for residential development. Over and over the fact came up that there are already 1000 lots approved for development just west of Elmira: where is the sense in cutting down precious forest for only 20 more houses?

A reminder: the Woolwich Township Public Meeting is this Tuesday at 7 pm in the council chambers in the new Township hall on Church Street, next to the 7/11. Come! Even if you don't talk at the meeting, just being there to show your support is valuable.

Kids on the trails agree

The other evening, I noticed two young fellows biking through the top of the Victoria Glen Park woods. They stopped at the petition table and carefully read the material there, then first one then the other signed the petition and took off down the lane.

Conclusion: this issue is turning out to be important to all ages and "demographics"!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Preserve Victoria Glen Park on CKCO News

On Wednesday, June 17th, CKCO came out to the Victoria Glen Park woods in Elmira to film a segment for the 6 oclock news. The reporter stayed well after that newscast, recording a longer segment for the 11 oclock news this evening.

Let us know how it looked!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"A real demonstration of commitment to the environment and the health of our community"

A letter from Michael Purves-Smith of Elmira to Woolwich Township:

"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.

Michael Purves-Smith
Treasurer, APT environment"

Evening by the woods & the petition

Last evening I was mowing my backyard, right across the lane from the Victoria Glen Park woods. In the half hour I spent out there, I saw at least 15 people stop at the table with the petition up by the path through the woods as they went on their evening walks.

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

Written submissions due & petition locations

Written submissions addressed to the Mayor and Members of Council of the Township of Woolwich that you would like included in their meeting package for the June 23rd public meeting are due in the Township office tomorrow, June 16th.

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.

More thoughts from the neighbourhood

Here are a couple more comments made at the neighbourhood meeting on June 10th -- where more than 100 people met to talk about how to challenge the "disposal" of Victoria Glen Park:

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

Neighbourhood meeting, June 10

On June 10th, a large group of friends and neighbours (more than 100) met at Trinity United Church to gather information about the proposed surplussing of the Victoria Glen Park woods and to discuss what we can do to preserve the woods as parkland. (If you would like to help, phone 669-3426).

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?

Preserve Victoria Glen Park Petition

Since the neighbours of the Victoria Glen Park first got their letters from the Township about the proposal to surplus the woods for residential development, we have collected more than 300 names on a petition expressing opposition to this plan.

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.

Woolwich Council phone numbers and emails

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!

Woolwich Township Council contact information

One of the comments at the neighbourhood meeting on the 10th of June was that Township councillors put more stock in letters written by residents than in simply names on a petition.

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!

Attend the Township Public Meeting

Woolwich Township Public Information Meeting
Tuesday, June 23, 7 p.m.

Council Chambers, 2nd floor,
Township of Woolwich Offices
24 Church Street West
, Elmira

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!