An online petition against a proposal to extend a truck parking lot next to Elmira’s Bolender Park is gaining traction.
The petition, “Stop industrial parking lot from ruining Bolender Park,” was launched on May 24, and has since garnered more than 800 signatures, with dozens of new signatures daily.
The owners of 39 Arthur St. N. are seeking zoning and official plan amendments to permit what is now some 7.7 acres of open space covered with trees and scrub-brush to be converted to a gravel parking lot. The applications were discussed by Woolwich councillors in April.
The site, formerly home to Paleshi Motors and 86 Auto and Metal Recyclers, is currently rented to Grandridge Carriers, a trucking firm, and Brubacher Roofing Systems.
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Part of the property also sits atop a former municipal landfill site decommissioned decades ago, but with lingering methane issues.
Of the 11.6-acre property, about four acres at the front is zoned for industrial use, with 39A Holdings Ltd. looking to clear out much of the rear portion to provide for parking trucks and trailers.
The open space is the center of the controversy.
“It’s right there by the Kissing Bridge Trail, and it’s the northern edge of Bolender Park. So you’ve got kids playing. And the township put in a lot of money building that splash pad and that playground, and it’s right on the north edge of that area. And it abuts the Canagagigue Creek. So you’d have drainage into the creek,” said Dan Holt, a community member who lives nearby the proposed development site.
“The odour, the noise, it’s just not a good fit. You don’t put a parking lot in the middle of a town in a residential area, and destroy a park to do it.”
On Tuesday, the petition had gained 815 signatures. There were 741 signatures on Sunday, and 789 on Monday.
Ed Northcott, another community member, started the petition. “Bolender Park is more than just a green space with some trees, and anybody who has been there knows this. It’s a gathering place for families. A safe, clean, beautiful recreational space that was created with the diligence and effort of Elmira’s townspeople,” said Northcott in an email.
Besides the proposed parking lot’s proximity to Bolender Park, the petition outlines the signatories’ other concerns with the development. Those include increasing the already substantial truck traffic on Arthur Street and problems with health, safety and road conditions that would accompany them. They are also concerned that the proposal involves cutting down approximately 360 mature trees.
In the proposal, these trees would be replaced elsewhere at a 1:1 ratio, but Holt and Northcott argue the environmental services provided by mature trees will not be replaced by saplings for decades, if at all.
The proposal’s tree protection plan says many of these trees are invasive Manitoba maples in fair to poor health.
There is also one butternut tree, a provincially protected species, located on the property. This would not be cut down, though it could potentially be impacted by the development.
“The trees on the lands are part of private property,” said Jeremy Vink, the township’s manager of planning. “The trees in question are not protected (other than the butternut) which means the applicant could remove the trees at any time, regardless if the application is approved or not.”
Besides replacing the trees, the plan proposes to retain a number of the trees around the perimeter of the property, “which includes lands adjacent to the park and the trail,” said Vink.
Since the site is a former landfill that still leaks methane gas, Holt said he is also concerned paving the area could potentially introduce methane problems in the neighbourhood.
The planning proposal references a study from an environmental consultant on the potential impacts of the landfill on the proposed parking lot project, saying, “landfill gas (primarily methane) is above the LEL in the underlying waste and soil at several locations across the site.”
LEL stands for lower explosive limit, and represents the lowest amount of methane present that could potentially ignite in the presence of an ignition source, meaning there are levels of methane present in the soil and waste that could ignite.
The applicant’s planning report notes that verbal discussions with GHD Group, which has been monitoring methane for the township, have determined there is no significant potential for an off-site impact, and that no more monitoring is needed to be done.
There is no indication of who these verbal discussions were between, when they were had or what specifically was said.
According to the planning proposal, the environmental consultant believes a gravel parking lot with no buildings will allow the methane to vent naturally. If no buildings are constructed and monitoring is conducted quarterly, this should, “ensure the health and safety of surface users and the protection of the environment.”
The province has laws against building on former landfill sites, so the property owner will also need to seek a certificate of approval from the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks for the project.
Woolwich planning staff is currently reviewing the application, a process that includes public comments, with a report expected back to council later in the year.
“There are zoning laws for a reason,” said Northcott. “The petition before council is a zoning change, because they (the landowner) don’t like how the law currently applies to them. But here’s the thing: even if you own the land, even if the zoning is appropriate, you still can’t do anything you want with a piece of land. You’re responsible for yourself, and your neighbours. Do we have a right to do something that devalues our neighbours’ property? To sabotage their lifelong investment? Do we have a right to make our neighbourhood more dangerous, and increase the risk to others? Of course not.”
Northcott says he is planning to address councillors and present the petition when the planning staff’s report comes to council.
The applicant’s planning consultants, GSP Group, did not respond to requests for comment by press time, though previously Hugh Handy, a planner with GSP Group told The Observer the landowner is aware of residents’ concerns.
“Recognizing that this sits within a broader residential area , we need to be sensitive to both in terms of what those operations are and how this fits in with the broader neighborhood,” he said.