Save the Henderson Drive Forest

Recent news

More Damage to the Henderson Forest!

In short, updated documentation has been submitted to the Town of Aurora to destroy over 49,000 square feet of environmentally sensitive and protected forest just to build two large estate homes for sale. 

 

We started this petition when 34,000 square feet was at risk and, even after requests by the Town to decrease the size of forest being removed, the owner is trying to INCREASE THE DAMAGE!!!!

 

Also, the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA), which must approve any development and is a commenting agency for the Town of Aurora has reversed course from its earlier position and is no longer asking the owners to demonstrate that the developments won’t have a negative impact on the ecological integrity of the lands.  Instead, they have now approved the developments with minimal conditions.

 

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has said that they will not involve themselves at this point and will only do so once a building permit is applied for.  It’s important to note that even though everyone agrees that there are likely endangered species on these lands, the Ontario MNRF has never denied a building permit to enforce the Endangered Species Act.

 

What have we discovered?

 

This development is not allowed under existing provincial and federal environmental regulations and Town By-Laws (details below), so please help us to put pressure on the Town and the Province to do the right thing and uphold their own policies!

 

We need your help

 

We have sent a letter to Mike Walters, Chief Administrative Officer of the LSRCA, asking for his explanation as to why they have approved the variance applications, especially when the Applicant hadn’t demonstrated no negative impact, as they had asked.  He is currently looking into the matter.

 

Also, the Town of Aurora Municipal elections are next monthand many of the current Council members are running for Mayor or for reelection, including Mayor Dawe who happens to be the current Chair of the LSRCA. 

 

Let’s apply some pressure!  We strongly encourage you to write to the individuals below and let them know that you care and that you expect them to uphold the regulations and the Town plan.

 

Lake Simcoe Conservation Authority

Mike Walter, LSRCA CAO                              M.Walters@lsrca.on.ca

Town of Aurora

Aurora Mayor and LSRCA:                             Geoffrey Dawe, mayor@aurora.ca

Planning Director:                                           Marco Ramunno, mramunno@aurora.ca

Councillors:                                                     John Abel, jabel@aurora.ca

                                                                        Sandra Humphryes, shumfryes@aurora.ca

                                                                        Michael Thompson, mthompson@aurora.ca​

                                                                        Jeff Thom, jthom@aurora.ca​     

                                                                        Wendy Gaertner, wgaertner@aurora.ca

                                                                        Harold Kim, hkim@aurora.ca

                                                                        Tom Mrakas, tmrakas@aurora.ca

                                                                        Paul Pirri, ppirri@aurora.ca

 

 

Background Details

The Greenspace

These two properties at 672 and 684 Henderson Drive, directly across from Salamander Pond and the Case Woodlot, are covered by a wonderful, mature/old growth forest (see video),which have remained virtually unchanged for decades and is one of Aurora’s last remaining green spaces.  The forest contains at least 71 different species of trees, plants and vegetation including rare and regionally uncommon tree species.  It stands on the north side of Henderson Drive, and shares a wildlife corridor with the Case Woodlot.  However, unlike the Case Woodlot, which serves as a well-used recreational area for hikers and dog walkers alike, this private land is undisturbed and has been designated endangered, rare and threatened wildlife habitat by the Province and the Town.

Those of you who live in the area and frequent the Case Woodlot will know the properties well, and may have even stopped your car on Henderson once or twice to help the Snapping Turtles cross so that they can lay their eggs on or near these lots.  In addition to the turtles, these lands are home to the at-risk Red-headed Woodpecker and provide an optimum habitat for two endangered species of bat and two rare birds that have been recorded in the vicinity by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF).

The Regulation

The two lots are currently privately-owned, and previously held a Rural Residential zoning (now converted to Estate Residential).  But, more importantly, they are also found in an area of Town designated Oak Ridges Moraine settlement lands. Because of this, development is only permitted in areas of the properties that are not considered Key Natural Heritage Features (Significant Valleylands, Significant Woodlands, Endangered, Rare and Threatened Species), and only if there is no damage to these features as a result of the development. In the case of both these properties, this means that development is not permitted since the entire lots are covered by these features, and the owner’s own reports highlight the extensive environmental damage that they intend to cause.

The Oak Ridges Moraine policy is very clear in that these provincial protections take precedence over any Municipal policies like zoning.  This is important as the Mayor of Aurora and the Town have often mentioned that to deny these developments will infringe on the owner’s property rights.  This is just misdirection, and not supported by the facts.

Finally, the provincial government has informed the owner of endangered bat species in the area, and residents have video of bat activity over the properties. As a result, the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) that prohibits any removal of endangered species habitat also applies. 

The Development Proposal

Despite these Provincial and Federal regulations, the owner of the properties submitted two variance applications in 2017 asking the Town of Aurora to set aside the 4 Town By-Laws that align to the ORMCP and prohibit development on these lands, just so that they could clear 34,000 square feet (initial proposal) of this pristine greenspace to build 2 enormous estate homes.

Understandably, the Town and the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority raised concerns with regards to the environmental impact of the proposed developments, and asked that the owner perform additional studies and submit more detailed documentation to assess the impact, including a detailed tree inventory.  The Town also recommended that the size of the building envelopes be reduced, and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry was also engaged to comment on the endangered species habitat.

The owner resubmitted their documentation in February 2018 but, instead of addressing the concerns, the situation got worse!  The new documentation does not mention a number of key regulations that prohibit development on the site, and instead of decreasing the amount of environmental damage, these latest submissions increase the amount of tree removal 43% to 49,000 square feet!  Further, their field reviews still have not identified any of the endangered, threatened and special concern wildlife photographed and videoed by neighbouring residents.

Where Do We Stand Today?

Unfortunately, while the LCSA had initially requested more documentation and appeared intent on enforcing the ORMCP regulations ensuring no negative ecological impact, they abruptly reversed course and approved the variance applications on August 3, 2018 even though they never received the information they requested!

Also, instead of upholding the ESA, the Provincial Ministry is working with the owner on a plan that endorses the removal of endangered species habitat.  And the Town of Aurora, instead of simply upholding the ORMCP and their own By-laws, has requested further documentation on the amount of tree removal that would occur if they allow the properties to be developed.  Both of these approaches mean that regulations specifically prohibiting any development on these properties have somehow been “interpreted” by the MNRF and the Town of Aurora to mean that development is permitted, as long as the damage is contained. 

Finally, York Region provided a “no objection” even though they admit that they didn’t assess the file because it’s a Municipal matter.  The bottom line is that the LSRCA, the MNRF, the Town of Aurora, and the Region are all disregarding the applicable regulation and making up their own rules!

Next Steps

Once the Town of Aurora Planning Department receives the remaining information, they will submit a staff recommendation to the Committee of Adjustment as to whether these applications should be approved or rejected.  Based on this, a Committee of Adjustment meeting will be scheduled and a decision made.

Brandy Kinnear
2 years ago