Conservation conflict in Hudson


PHOTO BY NICK ZACHARIAS

Though Hudson Mayor Jamie Nicholls is referring to the recent draft by-law prohibiting construction within a 30-metre radius of wetlands (including the trails and woods surrounding Sandy Beach, above) as a ‘pause,’ area residents have expressed anger and frustration over the unknowns of the rezoning and at least one threat of a lawsuit if it’s adopted.

On Monday evening November 18, a large and vocal crowd filled the hall at Hudson’s community centre for a public consultation that ran for two and a half hours on a single issue – the adoption of a draft by-law that will extend the required buffer zone surrounding wetlands from 10 metres to a proposed 30 metres. According to council, Hudson would be the first in the province to enact a 30-metre buffer zone.

The goal is to protect sensitive areas and to retain the natural ability of wetlands to absorb excess water to mitigate floods. The draft by-law, as approved in a split decision in October with Mayor Jamie Nicholls casting the deciding vote, prohibits any construction, work, backfilling, excavation and extraction within the new limit. The buffer applies equally to new construction projects and existing homes. Final approval of the by-law is expected to take place at the December council meeting.

The new rule is a ‘pause’

“This is a ‘pause’ until we have more supple tools to properly analyze the situation and see if the protective border could be less than 30 metres in specific places, or maybe more,” said the mayor. Factors like elevation and grade will come into play. The tools in question are being developed now, and the mayor expects the software needed to do more precise analyses of the wetland maps provided by Eco2Urb should be ready by the time any construction could realistically take place next spring.

When asked by resident Rob Delorme what the difference was between a ‘pause’ and a moratorium, Nicholls said it was semantic – either way a change would have to be adopted by council to ensure the town is not legally obligated to accept construction permits within the new limits. The by-law however does not have a fixed end date.

PHOTO BY NICK ZACHARIAS

Karleen Muhlegg, daughter of Pine Beach development owner Hans-Karl Muhlegg, expresses her concern to the Hudson mayor and councillors November 18 over a draft by-law concerning wetland protection and its effect on residential development.

Litigation threatened over new construction

Because permits have already been issued for Place Como Gardens under the 10-metre perimeter rule, that project will not be affected. Since, however, permit requests have not been completed for potential development in the Sandy Beach area (called the Pine Beach project by developer Nicanco Holdings) that area will be subject to the new limits.

This situation was the subject of an impassioned speech by Karleen Muhlegg, daughter of owner Hans-Karl Muhlegg.

“My father has been patient,” she said. “He has paid millions in taxes so that you can enjoy the land when we could have barricaded it.” She went on to say that the family would sue the town if they were not exempted from the by-law. “If we do not get a permit after tonight, we will embark on a merciless legal process and the repercussions will be felt for generations.”

Nicholls said the town has consulted with top experts in environmental law and is confident the new draft By-Law stands on solid legal ground.

Homeowners angered

The blanket application of the new by-law on existing properties also brought many homeowners to the microphone, airing frustration and anger over several issues, varying from the ability to use tractors for lawn maintenance to the potential that a home lost to fire within the new zone would be banned from reconstruction – the key concern being that such restrictions would gravely impact property values for the estimated 200 to 250 properties whose boundaries are crossed by the new line.

Mayor Nicholls and Councillor Austin Rikley-Krindle both confirmed that for the time being, while renovations or repairs to existing structures (including pools, sheds, homes, etc.) are fine, anything considered new construction, including complete demolition and rebuilding of a home, would not be allowed.

Voices heard

The day following the special meeting, Mayor Nicholls said he spent a great deal of time with the town’s Director General, looking at ways to recognize and accommodate the concerns they’d heard before final adoption of the by-law in December.

“That’s the point and the benefit of public consultation,” he said. “We are looking at how we can address issues we heard last night, like septic tanks, landscape maintenance, and rebuilding structures on existing footprints.”

Any adjustments will have to be included in the wording of the by-law before the vote for final adoption in December if they are to take effect.

Said Nicholls, “The goal of this is to take a pause until we have the tools to develop intelligently, and do no harm to our natural environment. I won’t be bullied into abandoning that. But we heard the concerns of existing property owners, and we’re working to find ways to accommodate them while still protecting our wetlands for the future.”

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