MV Council approves Chippawa condo rezoning after hearing environmental concerns

On July 7 Madawaska Valley Council approved the application by Combermere Lodge Limited (CLL) to rezone the Chippawa Shores property from Tourist Commercial to Residential to permit a 44-lot residential plan of subdivision. The condominium development which CLL first presented to MV Council in March 2018 has been subjected to sustained opposition on environmental grounds including from a citizens group, Friends of the Madawaska Watershed (FMW). The alleged environmental threats were identified at the public meeting held on August 29, 2019. (Click HERE to read The Current’s report.) 

Presentation made “under protest”

Until very recently the July 7th meeting was scheduled to consider the sale of the Shoreline Road Allowance (SRA). However a few days before the meeting that was changed by the Township to consideration of the rezoning application instead. According to FMW spokesman Doug De La Matter he had been granted permission to make a presentation about the SRA sale and was not prepared at short notice to deal adequately with the rezoning issues, primarily because expert witnesses who he had lined up to address rezoning were unable to attend on short notice. Because his request to defer the matter to a later date was refused by the mayor, he proceeded to make FMW’s submissions “under protest.” 

De La Matter said his presentation aimed to show how the by-law amendment is critical to both the environmental health of the area and the success of the development; and to raise a series of questions “for which the public deserve carefully reasoned answers before the rezoning is approved.” 

Madawaska River shoreline

He discussed protection of the shoreline to prevent erosion, especially vegetative undergrowth in the buffer zone; he said proposals by developer’s consultants would make “removal of protective underbrush almost certain.” According to De La Matter, the “Peer Reviewer suggested (twice) that the County and the Township consider requiring a 22m (SRA) ‘no vegetation removal’ zone allowing only a 1.8m ‘meandering path’ at each shoreline lot.” De La Matter also compared this to MNRF requirements for Crown land, pointing out that if this was Crown land, MNRF would require at least 30m protection zone and retention of more shrubs and saplings.

The proponent’s expert, Drew Paulisse, said the 30m protection zone related to Crown land policies for Ministry clearcutting, and said he felt shoreline erosion was due more to boat traffic and river flow than to the absence of vegetation. Mayor Love added that two recent spring floods had not eroded properties near her home where the lawns reached the river’s edge.

Green Lake shoreline

De La Matter drew attention to the greater protection afforded to Labrador Lake, where frogs are separated from the EP-E1 zones by marsh vegetation than in Green Lake where a much less protective EP-E2 buffer is proposed. Paulisse, admitting he is not a biologist, pointed out that bullfrogs were merely an “indicator” of wetlands and an EP zone is to protect a wetland vegetative community, not the frogs themselves. Thus, Labrador Lake’s two wetlands entitle it to a greater EP buffer. FMW also suggested a deferral pending an appropriate period of correct water quality readings for Green Lake, saying this was omitted from the environmental studies filed with County.

Enforcement of Environmental Protection zones

De La Matter said he has been told that once the condominium corporation owned the SRA, enforcement of environmental requirements would be the responsibility of the condominium board. He asked who observers should call if they witnessed non-compliance. He was told that the condominium board is composed of “on-site” observers who can notify the Township of any non-compliance and that neighbours can call the condominium board if they witness anything concerning. Mayor Love said she thought that FMW wanted “a higher level of protection and control over recreational crowding than currently exists in Madawaska Valley, and what we have in this development is a higher level of protection of the shoreline due to the condominium agreement and the implementation of the tree conservation plan on the shoreline.” She said when Council decided to impose an EP-E2 zone on the SRA it demonstrated they had considered environmental concerns. No one else buying their SRA in the municipality has conditions imposed upon them. Councillor Carl Bromwich pointed out it is in the landowners’ interests to protect their shoreline. County planner Charles Cheesman noted that the number of studies of Chippawa Shores far exceed those for any other development in Renfrew County.

Recreational crowding

De La Matter also pointed out that the developer did not conduct a study on Recreational Crowding on the Madawaska River even though at the river’s greatest width adjacent to the development the permissible boating area would be only 10m wide, and the existing development along the south shore already exceeds the threshold of permissible boating surface area. Thus, FMW suggested that the river channel adjacent to the site is inappropriate for further development.

In response for the proponent Neil Enright said that their expert GeoFirma clarified at the public meetings that recreational crowding does not apply to open waterways. He emphasized that access to the channel comes from the entire water system including Barry’s Bay, Hinterland Beach, Conroys Marsh. Enright said he would mitigate the traffic concerns by requiring property owners to place their docks parallel to the river shore. Regarding De La Matter’s concern about past algae blooms and the lack of up-to-date water quality tests for Green Lake, he said that a 10hp limit on boat motors would address potential overcrowding there.

FMW petition

The FMW presentation included a petition signed by 84 residents that requested Council delay approval until satisfactory environmental protections were in place. He said that 30 of the signatories felt strongly enough about the issue to make a comment and that gave De La Matter confidence to bring their concerns to Council.  

FMW’s petition urged Council to demand that environmental “protections meet or exceed current standards of best practices.” It asked Council, before passing the rezoning amendments, to require the developer to fully implement environmental recommendations that meet or exceed those proposed by the independent peer reviewer, that the project design include solutions for the known errors and omissions in the environmental studies, and that the developer post a $2 million performance bond until all conditions are met, construction is complete and all land transferred to new owners.

Beth Maiden, lawyer for Chippawa Shores development, responded saying that performance bonds must relate to specific outstanding work not completed on the condominium land itself, that $2 million and a term of two years were excessive, and that insurance against environmental damage was not done. She also pointed out that the SRA was still subject to enforcement by the municipality of any applicable laws and regulations, and that it was in the interests of the condominium corporation to ensure compliance. Mayor Love agreed explaining that the condominium board would provide “an added layer of protection that isn’t normally existent in the municipality if our by-law enforcement officer doesn’t happen to notice something or doesn’t receive a complaint from someone in the community.”

Council did not have any questions regarding the performance bond or the question of enforcement. Also attending the meeting were Tracy Zander of Zanderplan, the applicant’s planner, who spoke briefly to the zoning amendment; County planner Charles Cheesman; and municipal lawyer Bill Instance. Mayor Love gave all present the opportunity to seek more answers or make additional comments, and thanked all participants for their assistance.

CAO Suzanne Klatt said that Charles Cheesman, County planner, advised Council to pass a Resolution pursuant to S.34(17) of the Planning Act prior to passing the rezoning By-Law 2020-68: “Council has determined that no further public notice is required in respect to changes that were made to the proposed zoning by-law amendments after the public meeting of August 29, 2019.” 

Next steps

Cheesman pointed out that County was also dealing with the conditions of draft approval which were already circulated to Council. He undertook to issue those as soon as possible so the two applications would proceed relatively consistently. He said the zoning by-law amendment can be appealed but the planned subdivision agreement cannot. 

Later on July 7, Council first passed the Resolution suggested by Cheesman for no further public notice and then they unanimously approved By-Law 2020-68 for Site-Specific Zoning By-Law amendments for the Chippawa Shores Subdivision from Tourist Commercial to Residential to permit a 44-lot residential plan of subdivision.

Friends of Madawaska Watershed reaction

After the meeting, The Current asked De La Matter for his reaction. He focused on several points:

  • FMW is not opposed to development of the Chippawa property if done properly so as to safeguard against environmental damage. 
  • While many people will recall there were two public meetings, he was less sure that anyone would know what changes were made to the original plan in response to issues raised at those meetings. He said, “To my knowledge, the only significant modifications have been to take the prime lots facing Kamaniskeg OUT of the condominium plan, allowing them to develop who knows what type of commercial enterprise in that area. These were lots that were never questioned in their environmental impact. But they may well have commercial value beyond what is included in the present development.”
  • De La Matter told The Current that had FMW’s forestry expert been able to attend the meeting, he would have confirmed that a 30m protection zone applies to all projects (including selective random tree cutting) within 30m of shoreline on both Crown and privately-owned land thereby contradicting CLL’s evidence.
  • He was sceptical that a limit on boat motor sizes would either reduce overcrowding or enhance the water quality on Green Lake.
  • He said that FMW has confirmed to MV that Amanda Conway, a scientist with the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (which has legal responsibilities of enforcement if dredging activities, etc. are carried out on the shoreline), has agreed to advise Council on the design of protective buffer zones and how they can assist prevention of shoreline nutrient erosion. He repeated the comment he made to Council about FMW’s concerns: “Environmental damage is a lot like toothpaste… once out, it’s very hard to put back into the tube.”

 

Photo: mwfriends.ca

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