You can fight city hall … And win

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The end was something of an anticlimax, but residents went away happy Tuesday night as Woolwich council scrapped a proposal to build a residential subdivision in a portion of Elmira’s Victoria Glen Park.

They filled council chambers again, however, waiting for confirmation councillors would go along with a staff recommendation to halt development plans. The report circulated quickly following its release Tuesday morning, prompting a more subdued response that evening.

Matt Greene, Wyatt Whitby and Cole Donkersgoed take a seat on a stump in Victoria Glen Park Thursday afternoon. The Grade 6 classes at Park Manor School have been studying biodiversity and got to examine it up close with a hike through the forest. With Woolwich council’s decision to preserve the woodland, future students will get to visit the site.
Matt Greene, Wyatt Whitby and Cole Donkersgoed take a seat on a stump in Victoria Glen Park Thursday afternoon. The Grade 6 classes at Park Manor School have been studying biodiversity and got to examine it up close with a hike through the forest. With Woolwich council’s decision to preserve the woodland, future students will get to visit the site.

“Everybody’s happy with the result. We were excited when we got the staff report, but we wanted to be there – you never know until it comes right down to the vote,” said Karen Orr, one of the organizers behind the Preserve Victoria Glen Park movement.

Given the content of the staff report, only two people spoke briefly in favour of preserving the park. Councillors did not deliberate for long before voting unanimously to drop the proposal.

A report presented by Laurel Davies-Snyder, the township’s economic development and tourism officer, concluded the project was unviable given last week’s decision by councillors to remove from consideration 1.5 acres of the 2.5-acre portion of the park being eyed for a residential subdivision.

The township was planning on netting some $1.5 million from the full development. Removing the portion known as parcel one reduced the potential return to about $400,000, she said. Under that scenario, the benefits of the woodlands – recreational uses and aesthetics among them – outweighed the financial gains.

Woolwich will look at changing the zoning on township-owned parcels in the park to ‘open space’ from the current ‘residential’ zone, which had made the proposal an option in the first place.

The future of the two small parcels owned by Waterloo Region remains up in the air, however. The township had been negotiating to buy the land as part of the development plans, but has now backed away from the idea. There’s still the potential the region could simply sell the land fronting on Dunke Street for use as a residential lot, for instance.

For his part, director of engineering and planning Dan Kennaley said there’s little likelihood anything will happen on the regional lands before the township completes a review of its official plan, the process that will include possible rezoning of Victoria Glen lands.

While Coun. Ruby Weber called for immediate changes to safeguard against development in the park, Kennaley noted the review could take months, and will have to wait until the region finalizes its new official plan, as that document sets the framework for the lower-tier municipalities.

“It was my hope that after this motion gets passed we could deal with somehow changing the designation so that development would not happen on any of these lands – declare them as open space, rezone them so they’re not meant for residential development,” said Weber.

“I don’t want all these people to leave today being concerned that the region is going to come in here and develop these lands. I don’t anticipate that is going to happen: If they’ve not done anything up until now, it’s highly unlikely that they will, but I think we do need to take steps to ensure that it can’t happen.”

The official plan review, likely to get underway next year, will include extensive public consultations during the process, said Kennaley, allowing residents to push for preservation of the parkland.

That’s just what residents intend to do, noted Cheryl Fisher, who, like Orr, was one of initial group of community organizers.

“It was really good that staff outlined the process that comes next. It’s really important that people remember that – and that they pay attention – until we get the zoning that we want.”

While she’s comfortable about the future of the park, she said residents must stick with the process right through to the end.

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