Heather Wright/The Independent
A controversial plan to remove about 17 acres of trees in Countryview Estates in Petrolia to create more housing will be under scrutiny again in January.
About 60 people logged into the virtual Public Meeting about the proposed zoning change which would see an area deemed a significant woodlot by the county turned into 74 housing lots in the trees.
And that has a lot of neighbours, both in the subdivision and on the surrounding farms upset.
Petrolia’s planner, Rob Nesbitt told town councillors the plan of subdivision for Countryview Estates was approved in 2007. The developer at the time planned to build into the 25-acre woodlot. That plan got council’s stamp of approval Nesbitt says. At the time it wasn’t designated as a significant woodland.
But both the county and the town now recognize and zone the space as a significant woodlot. The current developer, Bob Leaper, has been working with the St. Clair Region Conservation Authority, the County of Lambton and the Ministry of the Environment for months to come up with a plan to remove 17 acres of trees and leave seven acres in five strips of trees about 61 feet wide at the back of each of the new developed lots. There would also be a 120 foot wide strip of trees at the center of the development Nesbitt says.
Leaper has also completed a species at risk study and the Ministry of the Environment determined “the project will likely not contravene the species protection or habitat protection portion of the Endangered Species Act,” Nesbitt said Monday.
That coupled with the approval of the draft plan of subdivision in 2007 means the housing should be built, says Nesbitt. “Therefore, the preservation of the entire woodlot is not possible.”
But neighbours disagree. And one says he will take legal action to stop the development.
Bryce Moor has lived in Countryview Estates since 2002. He says the woodlot was one of the reasons he and his wife chose to buy their home.
Now, he’s concerned its about to be altered forever.
Moor pointed out the significant woodlot is a Carolinian woodlot.
“They also make for good marketing for the town that wants to promote itself as green,” he says.
“I don’t know of many other towns in the province of Ontario that can say that.”
Moor was also concerned about maintaining what was left of the woodlot if it is subdivided.
“If you turn it around and rely on people who buy lots and have a strip of the Carolinian forest to maintain it, I would question the long-term viability in that because once it is going to be behind the fence, potentially you have no more control over it,” says Moor.
He urged council to see the value of the woodlot to the community.
“When you have something in your backyard, you only have it once… if you take 25 acres down to a few rows of trees, basically it’s gone for good, and the opportunity that you have here with council to assess what to do with it, will be gone.”
It’s not just homeowners upset. Two local farmers suggested the woodlot should remain to be a buffer between farmland and residential lots.
“Racher farms has been a successfully owned and operated livestock farm since 1935 and it has no intention of altering its operation to accommodate the proposed allure of moving more people to the immediate interface between rural life and the town. That interface has been a known source of unjustified odor complaints, light and noise pollution complaints, as well as any other inconvenience associated with the production of crops,” said Ross White, Racher’s representative.
“Regardless of what type of smoke show the developers may be suggesting, the new homeowners will feel they should all be exempt from these rule inconveniences.”
White says that will lead to friction between the Rachers, the developer, the town and the neighbours.
“The existing woodlot provides a natural buffer zone and ensures proper separation of two completely incompatible planning zones.”
White added a woodlot is too important to be sold off for profit.
“Equally disturbing as a suggestion that a single desire of a private enterprise to destroy an eco structure of a native woodlot for personal gain, would be openly welcomed by a town councillor who should be sworn to protect that space. Naturalized zones are a rare commodity within a town and are the envy of towns and cities across Canada. Petrolia appears to be willing to lose that resource by supporting a rezoning.”
White says the Rachers are willing to use any legal avenue to make sure the new lots are not approved.
The town will scheduled a second public meeting in the new year since so many of the people who came to speak against the new lots did not get a chance to speak.
Leaper says he’ll address the concerns then.