Marching for Sandy Beach woods
By Nick Zacharias
PHOTO BY NICK ZACHARIAS
Hundreds of supporters showed up at the community centre in Hudson last Sunday to march for the protection of Sandy Beach, specifically to ask that the Hudson town council take part in pursuing grants to purchase the forested wetland in the centre of town, and prevent it from being developed into 214 housing units.
A crowd of over 250 people gathered on Sunday, April 11 to support protecting the woods around Sandy Beach in Hudson, and to ask for Hudson town council’s participation in their efforts to see the land purchased and saved from development into 214 housing units. Planned by volunteer citizens’ organization ‘Sandy Beach Wetland Protection Group,’ the event drew residents from Hudson and surrounding communities who wish to see the woodland in the centre of town preserved.
Woods at risk
Organizers Mark Gray and Roxanne Séguin addressed the crowd at the community centre, then led a walk to the beach with volunteer Adrian Burke, who helped explain along the way exactly where houses were planned and how much of the woodland would be lost.
“The town wants to allow this development in the name of tax revenue,” said Gray in a speech to the crowd, “but to what end? The Eco2Urb report rates the Viviry as a critical filtration system for water before it enters the Ottawa River, and rates Sandy Beach as a ‘Tier One’ priority conservation area.” He said the group’s goal is to get the town, the region, and the Ministry of the Environment on board with conservation, as, “Once the area is lost to development it will not be possible to get it back.”
PHOTO BY NICK ZACHARIAS
The first row of 94 townhouses would be plainly visible 20 metres from the servitude to the beach – a reality demonstrated with a mock-up placed on the spot at the waterfront.
Realities of development explained
Among the major points being made, the group shared that the plan includes backfilling 4,266 square metres of wetland and adding roughly 300 new vehicles a day to the entrance of Beach Road in front of St. Thomas elementary school. They also pointed out to a largely surprised crowd that six blocks of 20-unit buildings would be placed directly adjacent to the black gates at the entrance to the trails, and that the first row of 94 townhouses would be plainly visible 20 metres from the servitude to the beach – a reality demonstrated with a mock-up placed on the spot at the waterfront.
Said group member and archeologist Adrian Burke, “We georeferenced a plan obtained through access to information to situate the exact spot of the first townhouse to within about 10 centimetres. This is where it would be.”
The town council has said they negotiated to own or control 72 per cent of the land for conservation. The group has a different view, and hopes to prevent building entirely. “Look at the map,” said Gray. “About 45 to 48 per cent of the land is covered by the ZIS (flood) line, and the other 27 per cent they are talking about is made up of unbuildable land on the banks of the Viviry, and the spaces in between the 214 housing units.”
At odds over purchase
The group’s plan is to negotiate the purchase of the land from developer Nicanco Holdings Inc., making use of funding theoretically available in grants from the Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal (CMM) and the province to make up two-thirds of the cost, leaving the town responsible for the remaining third. The money for the final third could also however be provided by other conservation funds the group has contact with, such as Ducks Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy of Canada. In order to get the funding, the town must make an application, but thus far they have said they are not willing to do so unless the group has a firm plan with the landholder for a purchase price, after which they would consider pursuing funds. Estimates vary on what the price would be but they are in the tens of millions of dollars.
Said Mayor Jamie Nicholls, who did not attend the event but spoke with The Journal afterwards, “The event goes to show the love that people have for Sandy Beach, and the council shares that love.” He said they have made every effort to conserve as much as they could, but grant applications are not easy and take a long time. In order for council to apply, they would have to know how much the holder is willing to sell for. “We need to see a plan.”
Gray says that’s putting the cart before the horse. “We said we’d look at talking to the owner first, because we’re exploring all the options, but the trouble with going into a negotiation with nothing to offer is that it’s a setup for failure. We won’t know how much funding we can actually get unless the town applies for it – but there’s absolutely no financial commitment and no risk to applying. If the town council agrees to see how much funding we can get, then we can approach the owner with a serious offer. If they apply for funding, they send a signal that they would prefer for them (developers) not to build here, but unless they would prefer for them to build here, there’s no risk in trying.” He and others in the group have said they are not against development, only against development that would destroy so much of the town’s remaining natural space. “We all know that the town needs tax revenue, we just think it would be better to allow building somewhere that isn’t the most sensitive ecosystem we have.”