Securing Elmira’s Victoria Glen as green space

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More than two years after a group of concerned citizens first voiced their opposition to the development of residential homes in Victoria Glen Park in Elmira, the issue was finally laid to rest last week when Woolwich formally completed its purchase of the region-owned parcels of land.

The $1 transaction was agreed to Nov. 16 at regional council, and it transfers ownership of two plots of land at the intersection of Dunke Street and Victoria Glen Street to the township; the first is at the southwest corner of the intersection and is approximately 0.83 acres, and the second parcel at the northeast corner is approximately 30’ by 100’.

With this transfer also comes the promise that the two parcels – which are currently zoned as residential – will be rezoned as open space along with the rest of the seven-acre park to effectively protect it from any future development.

VINDICATED Mayor Todd Cowan and Elmira resident’s Karen Orr and Edna Diefenbacher were among those who first voiced their opposition to the proposed development of Victoria Glen Park back in 2009. The new direction to protect the parkland is satisfying for all of them.

There is also an anti-flip covenant to prevent the land from being sold and developed in the future.
Back in the summer of 2009 the township first proposed purchasing the land from the region in order to build homes on approximately 2.6 acres of the park.

That deal would have brought in approximately $1.5 million to the township coffers, and would have helped finance the approximately $35 million in capital projects that were on the books for that year, including the Woolwich Memorial Centre, the Breslau Community Centre, Floradale fire station and the new township office.

Faced with a vocal, impassioned and well-organized backlash from residents in Elmira, the council of the day eventually rescinded their plan for development in November of 2009, opting instead to borrow nearly $4 million to cover the outstanding costs of the projects and to raise property taxes by an extra 0.79 per cent.

The issue and the property had lain dormant until this agreement was completed earlier this month, but constantly hung over the local resident’s heads as no firm resolution had been reached until now.

“From a township perspective this is a good news story of moving forward with preservation of the open green space,” said Woolwich chief administrative officer David Brenneman.

“I think it’s just wonderful,” added Karen Orr, a resident of Snyder Avenue North who frequents the park regularly and who was one of the original organizers of the Preserve Victoria Glen Park movement.

“We don’t have much forested area left in Elmira. It’s different to have green space versus forest; green space is nice and you can have a park, but this is a true forest and there aren’t too many left in town.”

The deal also finalizes one of Mayor Todd Cowan’s primary election promises from his mayoral campaign last fall. Cowan was a part of the Preserve Victoria Glen Park group and lobbied for them by going door-to-door and collecting signatures in opposition to the development back in 2009.

He said the previous council’s approach to dealing with the land was one of the main reasons why he decided to run for mayor.

“That was the straw for me that said ‘you know what, we need a different direction here. We need someone that’s going to preserve those green spaces (and) find the money somewhere else’,” said Cowan.

“This is finally going to put this thing to rest because it’ll never be hanging over our heads.”

The legal paperwork of the deal still needs to be completed, as well as an amendment to the zoning bylaw and the township’s Official Plan, but those are merely housekeeping items that will be handled in the coming weeks.

For Orr and Cowan, the message sent to the rest of the region by Elmira’s decision to put the interests of its citizens over the almighty dollar by protecting the forest and the green space is an important one, particularly given the township’s recent movement towards planting more trees, not cutting them down.

“We’ve got to protect these areas,” said Cowan. “You look at the flipside and what we’re going with our TWEEC (Township of Woolwich Environmental Enhancement Committee) group, we want to plant 23,000 trees – one per person – and I think we’re turning the corner here because a couple years ago we wanted to knock down a couple hundred trees.”

Orr also said that their eventual success against council and city hall helped to prove that a group of people can make a difference, and she hopes this positive outcome will arouse others to act in the future whenever they see injustice.

“It’s really important to stand up for what you believe in if you think is right.

“I hope that this is an inspiring thing for other people and organizations. There is strength in numbers and if enough people believe in it and come together, that’s how things change in the world.”

James Jackson
New father. Award-winning reporter, photographer & feature news writer at Waterloo Chronicle in Waterloo, Ontario. 2013 OCNA Reporter of the Year. Former reporter/photographer for The Observer.