MEDIA RELEASE: Jim Watson commits to bringing in a site alteration by-law
At the Ecology Ottawa debate on the Environment of September 24, candidate mayor Jim Watson, in response to a question from the Greenspace Alliance, committed to bringing forward a site alteration by-law. Going further, he said he would lobby the Province for stronger penalties against landowners who act illegally.
The Municipal Act allows municipalities to enact a site alteration by-law and doing so has been a directive in Ottawa's Official Plan since 2003 but nothing has happened. "I know he keeps his promises," said Erwin Dreessen, Co-chair of the Alliance, "so we look forward to his leadership in the next term of Council to ensure that a strong by-law is adopted."
A site alteration by-law would, through a permit system, regulate changes that could be made to an undeveloped site -- formally, "laying or dumping fill," "removal of top soil," or "alteration of the grade of the land." "Normal agricultural practice" is explicitly excluded from a site alteration by-law, as are a number of other ways in which what happens to a site is already regulated, e.g. a site control plan or plan of subdivision. Several municipalities have seen fit to explicitly include in the scope of their site alteration by-laws the drainage of wetlands and the removal of vegetation. Perhaps most important, the Municipal Act states that the permit can "impose conditions ..., including requiring the preparation of plans acceptable to the municipality relating to ... the rehabilitation of the site."
"If written properly, that should mean the end of tree massacres in this city," said Sol Shuster, a Director of the Alliance, "as well as provide more protection for wetlands that do not, or not yet, have Provincially Significant status."
Forty-five of 61 candidates for Council who replied to the Alliance's proposition about a site alteration by-law fully agreed that one should be brought in. Only five opposed.
Similarly, 45 candidates supported the proposition that there should be an annual allocation towards an environmental lands acquisition fund; an additional eight offered conditional support, while five were opposed. Forty-four candidates supported the continued prohibition of country lot estates, while ten gave ambiguous or no answers; again, five were opposed.
The strongest agreement, however, came with the Alliance's fourth proposition: That volunteer advisory committees should play a larger and more meaningful role, serving as a bridge between the public and Council. Fifty-one candidates expressed support, with just one rural, one core urban and one mayoral candidate opposed. "This indicates widespread agreement that the City's public engagement practices must be improved," said Bruce Lindsay, Membership Chair of the Alliance. "The old system had serious weaknesses, the new system doesn't work either, we need some new creative thinking."
The full text of responses by the 61 candidates, by Ward, is available on the Alliance's web site at http://greenspace-alliance.ca/election2014 . There was little pattern to the response/no response rate. In five Wards all candidates responded, in three none did. In both cases this included rural, suburban and core urban wards. Many candidates' responses included revealing and useful rationales.
Founded in 1997, the Greenspace Alliance works to preserve and enhance green spaces in the National Capital area, and engages with all levels of government. We believe that urban greenness is essential for a community's quality of life, contributing to our personal, social, economic, cultural and spiritual well-being. They also connect us with the natural and cultural history of our region.
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For further information, please contact Erwin Dreessen at erwin_dreessen [at] ncf.ca or 613.739.0727.