Community concerns regarding site alterations such as the clearcutting of trees, without proper plans in place, continue as community members demand that municipal representatives act to preserve Huntsville’s environmental features.
Huntsville Mayor Karin Terziano requested that the issue be brought back to the Town’s July 21 remote planning committee meeting, particularly in response to a petition concerning site alteration at 254 Marsh Road West. You can read the petition here (pdf).
“I know that all council received it and I know that the residents in that area have been frustrated for a couple of years but I also know that our staff have done everything that they can do in order to mitigate what’s going on,” she said. “The reason I wanted to have it as a discussion is because this type of thing is happening all over our town and I’m continually getting calls about clearcutting of pieces of property.”
Kirstin Maxwell, director of planning services, reminded the committee that the Town does not have any bylaws in place to either prohibit or at least limit significant site alteration like that of Marsh Road West. “Unfortunately, on top of that MNR was contacted and they also didn’t feel that there was anything that they could do to stop any of the works that were occurring on the property.”
Maxwell said a community planning permit bylaw would address issues such as site alteration and tree cutting, and it’s the reason staff brought it forward as a recommendation which was approved just before a pandemic was officially declared. She said the planning tool would “encapsulate site alteration and tree cutting all as part of the development approval process and we would be able to, therefore, enforce these types of situations much more effectively.”
Maxwell gave committee an update about where planning staff are with respect to creating a community planning permit bylaw. She said a request for proposals has already gone out and staff are looking for consultants to submit their proposals “and we’ve taken a very aggressive timeline to it. I know with COVID of course everything got thrown a bit out of whack but we are hopeful that we would have a new bylaw in place by the beginning of next summer. We’re looking at May, if feasible,” she said, with public consultation happening during the upcoming winter months.
Deputy Mayor and committee chair Nancy Alcock asked whether something could be put in place in the interim in order to address issues that arise before a bylaw is put in place.
Maxwell noted that implementing a tree-cutting bylaw, for example, would also require community consultation “and I know over the years it’s been a very touchy subject with a lot of people and there’s been a lot of public outcry when municipalities in the past have tried to impose something along those lines,” she said, adding that allocating resources and going down a separate path from an all-encompassing community planning permit bylaw would not effectively put something in place any faster. “But we’d be happy to have that discussion and if council wanted to direct staff to work on a specific portion [of a more comprehensive bylaw] we could look at what those options are and bring something back in August.”
Councillor Bob Stone echoed his frustration with the municipality’s inability to do anything at this time. “I’ve seen people buy a property, they just rape the land and walk away. And even the idea that you tie it to a permit that still won’t prevent people from just clearcutting a property and then walking away for a while and then they come back and say, ‘oh now I want to get a permit to build a house’. There has to be something, some middle ground, that we can stop these types of things from happening.”
Terziano noted that putting a tree-cutting bylaw in place may be a lot harder than putting a community planning permit bylaw in place. “I did head up a committee to try and get a tree-cutting bylaw back in somewhere between 2012 and 2014, and I honestly believe from that experience it’ll be harder…”
She also noted that a tree-cutting bylaw would not necessarily address all of the concerns regarding site alteration on Marsh Road West “because what they were doing was a lot of waterfront infilling… as opposed to just clearcutting.”
Councillor Jason FitzGerald said it is something that’s happening in the community and in the past “we’ve tried to come up with something and we have two sides of the fence and it [public opinion] seems to be split evenly so here’s to us, to…[tackle]it once again and see if we can come up with a solution.”
In the meantime, staff was asked to investigate whether an interim control bylaw or another temporary solution might be put in place until the municipality is able to pass a community development permit system to address concerns related to significant site alteration such as those recently raised about a property on Marsh Road West and the clearcutting of trees just east of Forbes Hill Drive. Staff are scheduled to return with a report to the Town’s committee of the whole in August.
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