Is there a problem with transparency on the proposal to protect the Mt Nemo plateau?

By Pepper Parr

March 17, 2014


When we first wrote about the Conservation Heritage District we said this was going to get messy.  Once people read the document the city released for discussion at a committee not yet known on a date yet to be determined all hell is going to break loose.

The area covers basically all of the western half of the Escarpment.

There are provisions in parts of the draft by-law that will forbid just about everything during the first year of the bylaws existence.  At the February meeting in Kilbride city planning director Bruce Krushelnicki told the audience that what was being proposed was a bylaw that the city could pass and revoke any time they wished.  The audience wasn’t convinced however, but they did go along with taking a next step which was to do a study.  It seemed like a good idea at the Kilbride meeting; nothing overly complicated.

The decision to take that next step was the result of a show of hands which that evening was overwhelmingly positive even though there were a number of people who didn’t like the idea of the city butting into local affairs.

Staff went away to prepare the report that was to set out what the next step study was going to be and what the public could expect to come out of it.

During a city council meeting on the budget when the city was approving the time needed for a planner to oversee much of this work and the expense involved,  Jack Dennison, councillor for ward 4 made the point that “this wasn’t something we brought to Council” and indeed the idea of creating a Conservation Heritage District did not originally come from the city planners.

It was the result of an application a group of residents had made to the Niagara Escarpment Commission (NEC) to have as much of the Escarpment as possible protected under a some form of protection.  PERL – Protect the Escarpment and Rural Lands made the application and met with the NEC planners and learned that they really weren’t going to be able to get what they wanted.

A topographical view of the study boundaries.

The Niagara Escarpment Plan which comes from the Niagara Escarpment Commission formed in 1937,  has three categories of protection: Nature Areas; Protection Areas and Rural Areas.  Each of these apparently has a cultural aspect or element to them which is conveyed with wording such as: “encourage the conservation of traditional cultural landscapes” – which is probably what the Aboriginal people were trying to see when the white people moved in.

PERL fought to prevent an expansion of the existing quarry.  The lower orange outline was the area where the expansion was to take place.

PERL was the citizens organization that won the fight against an expansion of the Nelson Quarry.  While it was the city that put forward the lead lawyer and spent $2 million in legal fees on that battle, PERL was given standing at the Joint Tribunal and had a consistent impact on the direction that Tribunal went.

One of these was enough for the people in rural Burlington. Is a bylaw creating a Heritage Conservation District the best way to prevent any quarry application – or is there a larger objective being sought?

PERL eventually pulled their application to the NEC for some form of protection for the Escarpment, particularly the Mt Nemo plateau and went to Councillor Taylor with what they felt was a better approach – do something via the Official Plan Review which was taking place.

They came up with the idea of asking if creating a Conservation Heritage District (CHD) could be part of the Official Plan review.  While that review is ages from being complete and even longer from being approved – the planners seem to be moving along at what is breakneck speed in the planning world to get a bylaw in place that would make a large swath of rural Burlington a Heritage Conservation District and thereby protect the plateau.

PERL hasn’t said a word publicly.  The last date of an entry on their website is November 2012. They have worked quietly with Councillor Taylor who clearly intends to make doing something substantial to protect the plateau his legacy issue; should he win the October election for his ward one would expect that to be his last term of office.  

Once the public becomes fully aware of the planned bylaw there will be some “not so fast” comments as well as some OMB level mutterings.  Paletta International complained in a letter to the city that they knew nothing of this initiative and asked that their lands be removed from the study area.  It doesn’t quite work that way – everything gets studied or nothing gets studied.

The staff recommendation that will get to a Standing Committee at some point in the near future but perhaps as late as June, making it an election issue for some, came out of a process that started back in July of 2013.  At the July 2, 2013 city council meeting Councillors Craven and Taylor brought an amendment to whatever was discussed in the CLOSED session part of the June 18th meeting.

Fast forward to what is going to go to a city Standing Committee at a yet unknown date this.  Staff is asking that council:

ENDORSE the Terms of Reference for the Heritage Conservation District Study and Plan for the Mount Nemo Plateau, dated March 7, 2014; PROVIDE the Manager of Procurement Services delegated authority to award the contract(s) and issue a Purchase Order to the highest scoring Proponent(s), subject to budget limitations of $200,000;  AUTHORIZE staff to commence a Heritage Conservation District Study process for the Mount Nemo Plateau; DIRECT staff to report back following the completion of the Heritage Conservation District Study process prior to the commencement of a Heritage Conservation District Plan process in accordance with s. 40 of the Ontario Heritage Act;

APPROVE an upset limit of $200,000 for the Heritage Conservation District Study and Plan to be funded from the Tax Stabilization Reserve Fund; APPROVE the Mount Nemo Plateau Study By-law, which is set out in an Appendix to the staff report. 

Staff wants the city to RECEIVE the draft Study Area Control By-law which may be passed in the event that a potential threat arises to the integrity or character of the study area.

Added in is a requirement that staff report back to council on the views of the public in Q2 2014 – that’s before the end of June.  Given the winter we have had all the frost might not be out of the ground by then.  And we will be four months away for an election which will likely turn this issue into an election question.  What’s the rush?

Ward 3 councilor John Taylor said on Saturday that he intends to campaign on this issue.  To Taylor’s credit he has been very diligent in working for the interests of the people north of 407 and while he lives south of Upper Middle Road much of his heart is in the rural part of Burlington.

There is more to this development which we will follow up on.  The terms of reference need a look, the cost – they are talking in terms of $200,000 and the level of public participation in this initiative are all critical.

Background links:

Newsflash on the CHD meeting in Kilbride February 10th

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7 comments to Is there a problem with transparency on the proposal to protect the Mt Nemo plateau?

  • What a joke. ~ The Heritage Conservation Area conveniently STOPS on the north side of Dundas Street. No mention of the delicate Nature of the internationally recognized Biosphere across the street ~ oh wait, that’s City View Park, the largest parkland area in Burlington and the only UNESCO Biosphere in the World that’s just had City Council spend millions of dollars on 100’s of tons on non-biodegradable toxic plastic grass laid down for the Pan Am Games. Few taxpayers in the region, immediately above and below the escarpment, are aware that not only must all that million dollar fake grass be removed & presumably replaced every 5-8 years, but the glaring lights, noise and increased traffic at the Pan Am designed stadium (permanent seating for 1500) will significantly and detrimentally impact the REST of that ancient and magnificient escarpment brow parkland area for generations to come…. “Heritage Conservation”? ~ Ha! ~ In other news, we are pleased to report the unusual discovery of a new bird located in that wonderful area. It has a piercing and persistent yet intermittent trill that seasoned birders say sounds an awful lot like a sports field whistle. On the strength of that, expert ornithologists have named this unique creature, the ‘Socca’ bird. Listen for it the next time when meandering along the splendid Bruce Trail that runs along the brow there. ~ Just think what a grand find this is for future Heritage Conservation!

  • Hi Pepper

    Good article. One small correction the NEC was formed in 1973 not 1937 ( I attended some of the first meetings) and the first plan was approved in 1978. You might want to talk with David Johnston the NEC planner for the Halton area to get more details on the NEC review which is talking place in 2015 along with the Provincial Greenbelt plan review and the Regional 5 year Official Plan review (yes right after the OMB is finished with the 2009 plan).

    Colin Best
    NEC area resident

    Editor’s note: Noted

  • Roger

    Dear Burlington Gazette,
    It would be advisable for you to verify your facts about PERL, with PERL, before misrepresenting the facts.
    PERL has NOT withdrawn its NEC application, simply check the NEC web site.
    Further, PERL has been very active on important issues pertaining to the Niagara Escarpment in Burlington and its rural areas…Burlington Airpark, Line 9, NGTA Highway, the development of the Rural Vision, the Cornerstone Standards, opposition to a proposed cellphone tower in Mount Nemo, etc. PERL, totally volunteer staffed, makes an important contibution to the the lives of Burlingtonians and our environment. For more information on PERL please visit our Facebook page, which we use to communicate to our followers.

    Editors note: Our information came from a member of the NEC -if they were wrong we will correct that error.
    If you are going to maintain a web site it would be useful and responsible to keep it current or in the alternative direct people to whatever medium you are using to communicate.

    • Suzy Skidmore

      Just for additional clarity; PERL does not make an important contribution to the lives of all Burlingtonians – I being one.

      I am absolutely offended by the self-righteous arrogance by self appointed groups like PERL, and the impositions they create supported by public funds.

      • Roger

        Suzy, I’m sorry you feel that way. We will work harder to earn your trust and respect. PERL is not supported by public funds or tax dollars, nor are we a registered charity.We raised the funds needed to hire experts and lawyers to oppose the Nelson Aggregate new license application through fundraising, mostly by hosting concerts. Over the last 9 years, PERL has advocated for better protection of the Niagara Escarpment, the Greenbelt and the rural areas of Burlington. Please look up our Facebook page, open up the tab ‘about’ to see our mission and objectives.

        Roger Goulet

        • Suzy Skidmore

          If you raised $2M for legal fees to fight the quarry issue, then that is something that warrants more political profile. That is an impressive achievement.

          If you were able to raise $2M for legals through fundraising and concerts etc., then I will bring my friends to your next concert.

          • Roger Goulet

            Suzy, there were five OMB tribunal approved opponents at the Nelson Aggregate Hearings…Halton Region, NEC, Conservation Halton, City of Burlington, and PERL, each with their own budgets and sources of funds. PERL fundraised to pay for our own technical experts and lawyers. I don’t want any misunderstanding.

            Roger Goulet