The threat of losing some green space has a large group of Elmira residents seeing red. Woolwich councillors can expect to get an earful Tuesday night as they discuss turning a portion of Victoria Glen park over to developers.
At issue is a township proposal to declare as surplus a total of about three acres of land it owns, a prelude perhaps to a builder clearing the forest to make room for residential development. The properties in question are in Elmira’s north end, bounded by Victoria Glen Street, Snyder Avenue North and Dunke Street North. The Kissing Bridge Trail runs to the north.
The portions of parkland under discussion run along a portion of the existing Victoria Glen Street, and would front on either side of that route’s extension on an unopened road allowance between Dunke Street and Snyder Avenue.
The sites in question make up about 20 per cent of the forested area.
Neighbourhood reaction to the proposal was swift, as residents quickly circulated a petition that has already garnered more than 600 names. A meeting last week at Trinity United Church drew more than 100 people.
“People are concerned about this issue. It keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger,” Snyder Avenue North resident Karen Orr said of the community response.
She along with some 30 others have formed the Friends of Preserve Victoria Glen Park initiative. The group wants to halt any thought of destroying part of the parkland.
“It’s a valuable resource. It’s not the money that’s the value, it’s the forest, the green space,” she said in an interview.
Cheryl Fisher, a lifelong resident of Elmira who lives on Riverside Drive West with her husband Brad, said Victoria Glen is a popular spot for the whole community, not just people in the neighbourhod.
Initial information gathered by the group traces the park back to 1914, when it was purchased for $2,000. Some of the land appears to have been given residential zoning in 1948, she explained, calling that zoning inappropriate.
She was taken aback when the township circulated information about the proposal for residential development.
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense after 61 years to all of a sudden decide now is the time to develop the land. It’s always been a park.”
For Brad Fisher, the fight involves saving the wide variety of animal and plant life in the forested area.
If the township starts chipping away at the site, it could damage the micro-ecosystem in place there.
“It’s a very significant area environmentally,” he said. “You’ll find the largest and oldest trees in Elmira there.”
Such fears are unfounded at this point, however, cautions Laurel Davies Snyder, Woolwich’s economic development and tourism officer.
Next week’s public meeting to discuss the future of the Victoria Glen land is part of a larger review of township-owned land. While most are small parcels such as unopened road allowances or rights of way, the relatively larger tracts at issue in Victoria Glen warrant being looked at separately, she said.
There are no plans for the land, and no one has pitched a development proposal, but the township has come up with a few scenarios for the site, which could house up to a couple of dozen homes depending on lot size and configuration.
“There are a lot of options as to what could go there based on the residential zoning,” said Davies Snyder.
One of those options is to leave the land as it is today.
That would certainly make residents happy, but they’re preparing to make their case rather than letting the chips fall where they may.
In preparing a case for preserving the forest, Orr found many others shared her concerns. Initially, she thought this would be a neighbourhood issue, but quickly discovered it’s a resource enjoyed by many others in Elmira and beyond.
“People using the trails – this is a heavily used part of the trail system – are happy to sign our petition. They’re from all over Elmira, and also from Conestogo, St. Jacobs and elsewhere.”
The initial public meeting to gather feedback is set for June 23 at 7 p.m. in Woolwich council chambers. Officials are expecting a large turnout, and many people have already signaled their intent to speak about the issue.
The preservation group has an active blog (http://preservevictoriaglenpark.blogspot.com) in support of its cause.