Despite the terrible weather, on Thursday, February 27, the Rideau Action Group (RAG) welcomed the public to its community information session and fundraiser in the Village of North Gower. It was a resounding success, with almost 80 members of the public braving the snow to attend the event in person and, as of the end of February, over 400 people had viewed the live stream of the event on-line.
The purpose of the meeting was to provide information about the City of Ottawa’s zoning changes to accommodate a proposed e-commerce distribution centre on Roger Stevens Drive; and the subsequent appeal by Rideau Action Group of those changes to Ontario’s Local Planning Appeal Tribunal. North Gower MPP, Goldie Ghamari, was represented by a staffer who took notes. Ms. Ghamari has previously informed RAG members that she will host a town hall meeting on behalf of the Ministry of Transportation to bring together the community, the City of Ottawa and the developer.
The event was expertly MC-ed by Gordon Kubanek. Long-time resident of North Gower, Jo Sullivan, gave an emotional review of the history of the land and how it had originally been zoned as the Jordel Acres Subdivision, with extensive consultation and taking into account input from the community. She painted a picture of a close-knit community with a vision for the future of their Village. Teddie Laframboise followed with an account of how RAG was formed and spoke to the grave concerns that the community has about the proposed distribution centre as well as the way in which the City of Ottawa seems to be ignoring due process and stakeholder input in its planning decisions. Ray Steiger provided an overview of the main concerns connected to the rezoning. More detailed information was available from RAG members at stations set up around the hall.
RAG identified the following five main areas of concern: the loss of future economic growth of the village, increased traffic, increased water use and flood potential, environmental damage and the creation of tenuous contract and seasonal employment that bear no relation to the community in which they exist. The presentations noted that the majority of studies submitted by the developer in support of the proposal were out-of-date, inaccurate or flawed. For example, the traffic study does not account for delivery trucks or slow-moving agricultural vehicles and even without those was predictive of long delays and a chaotic traffic environment. The Environmental Impact Statement failed to mention several endangered species that are known to use the property and relied on floodplain data that has been in need of revision for years.
RAG estimates that it will need to raise $65,000-$70,000 to hire experts such as lawyers, traffic specialists, urban planners, and archeologists to identify the flaws in the developer’s studies in an attempt to reverse the City’s decision in favour of the rezoning. Only experts in the field have standing to present before LPAT, so the community of North Gower is in the unenviable position of having to engage in a massive fundraising effort to take on Broccolini, a multi-million dollar company and the City of Ottawa. RAG and the community of North Gower are among a growing number of local groups experiencing the frustrating task of trying to hold the City accountable for poor planning decisions.