Letter to the editor 2, Nov. 28, 2019
Re: Draft By-law 526.8-2019 – Amending Zoning By-law 526 to Modify Certain Provisions Concerning Wetland Protection.
During the August, 2019 council meeting Hudson passed Notion of Motion 526.7-2019 – Amending Zoning By-law 526 to Modify Certain Provisions to Protect Natural Habitats & Natural Constraints. In Mayor Jamie Nicholl’s words at the time it triggered an immediate, “effet de gel” and began a period where the town could begin to implement reforms to existing by-laws. However, two months passed with little public engagement or education on environmental issues. This was followed by Draft By-law 526.8-2019 which was tabled in October, 2019, again followed by weeks without public engagement or education, culminating in a disastrous public consultation on November 18.
Environmental consultants Eco2Urb were contracted by the council to conduct a town-wide Conservation Plan as a first step in developing a guiding toolset for urban planning, by-law reform, and protection of Hudson’s natural heritage. The final report and wetland inventory maps are expected imminently. We assumed this new wetland inventory map would be incorporated into the town’s by-laws, and not the two older maps mentioned in the draft by-law. As the Eco2Urb map is a consolidation of existing information and new ground-truthing completed this year, it was a mistake not to wait for this map before drafting this by-law.
Wetlands and natural areas provide critical functions that support our way of life in Hudson. They provide recreational and tourist opportunities; mitigate floods by acting as sponges; feed groundwater, streams and rivers; are natural filters and improve our water quality; provide important habitat for animals and plants; are great at storing carbon and mitigating the effects of climate change and species extinction; and, lastly, provide clean air.
In Hudson, these areas include woods, swamps, ponds, marshes, bogs, rivers, streams, creeks and shorelines, and bring many benefits to the population. Council has a responsibility to protect what remains of these areas for the benefit of present and future generations. Unfortunately, Hudson still does not have an established, integrated or enforceable plan for protecting and minimizing the impact of future developments on our wetlands and natural areas, and as such these areas are still not given proper consideration in Hudson’s urban planning process.
Because we and fellow citizens were concerned that current residential development is not being adequately planned to protect our natural areas, water resources and distinctive natural heritage, we launched a petition during the summer requesting that Council put a temporary moratorium on all residential developments that have the potential to negatively impact natural areas in our town.
We did not believe, nor did the 661 verified Hudson residents who signed our petition believe, that the petition would result in draft By-law 526.8. By signing the petition, citizens actually stated the following:
I confirm my support for such a temporary moratorium;
I ask council to adopt a Notice of Motion to put a temporary moratorium on conservation areas previously identified in the 2017 Conservation Plan for Wetlands and Natural Areas;
I ask council to maintain this moratorium in effect until such time as council has:
Adopted a Conservation Plan, incorporated this plan into by-laws, and implemented these by-laws in order to ensure Hudson’s natural areas, water resources and natural heritage are protected.
We feel the message sent with the petition is being ignored.
The fundamental purpose of the petition was to convince council to address the above issues immediately and with purpose, and to incorporate environmental concerns into all by-laws.
Hudson would not be the first municipality to recognize the importance of their wetland areas. The Town of Chelsea has laid the groundwork for a well-researched, thoughtful by-law with an increased buffer zone around wetlands. From section 4.15.4 of their Zoning By-law 636-05: “A thirty (30) metre buffer zone must be maintained around a wetland area. This provision takes precedence over all other provisions of Zoning By-law 636-05. Any and all construction, installation, development, or fencing in a wetland area is strictly prohibited.”
And importantly, provisions in section 4.15.8 of the by-law maintain a buffer zone of 15 metres for lots with existing cadastral numbers; such a clause would alleviate many of the comments and concerns of property owners expressed at the public consultation on November 18.
We do not feel the process used to develop Draft By-law 526.8 was adequate; it was not presented with sufficient public dialogue and participation. While we agree with an extension of the buffer zone (there is ample scientific evidence to support this), this by-law should incorporate provisions for existing properties, similar to the approach used by the Town of Chelsea. However, it should also contain provisions to increase the buffer zone for exceptionally sensitive wetlands in our Town.
The Town of Hudson clearly needs a transparent, effective, public engagement plan. It also clearly needs to launch a public outreach campaign to raise awareness of the importance of our natural areas and wetlands and why an increase to the buffer zone is required. For example, how many residents are aware their properties currently lie within the 10- or 15-metre buffer zone and what is permitted within this zone? How is the town enforcing the existing by-law and how does it plan to enforce any new by-law? The town should provide affected landowners with micro maps of all cadastral lots within the proposed buffer zone, something that could easily be done using the town’s new Eco2Urb mapping software.