Where are the Leaders?

South March Highlands

Shame

South March Highlands – Carp River Conservation Inc. (SMHCRC) – the formal entity that is otherwise known as the Coalition to Protect the South March Highlands has done what no federal, provincial, or municipal politician has managed to do – propose a fair and concrete plan for an alternative outcome.

One might think that the politicians might now rush in with great relief to join the Public-Public Partnership that the SMHCRC is proposing.  They all recognize privately that the situation is a mess because of bad planning decisions in the past; decisions made in ignorance of the significance of the area.  They all admit that these decisions would not be made today and no one wants to try to change past to solve the problem. 

Fortunately they don’t have to.  The SMHCRC’s proposal deals with the current reality and does not try to change the mistakes of the past.  It’s an agenda for moving forward, not backward, and towards an alternative development outcome that preserves and leverages the value of green infrastructure.

But yet our elected politicians feel no accountability or responsibility and appear to be devoid of moral imperative.  

Under Ottawa’s Official Plan, the city is responsible for acquiring land as important as the South March Highlands whenever the opportunity arises.  Yet there are no funds allocated for that purpose.  Shame.

In 2010, the City spent $5 B on capital projects.  This includes $1.7 B for road infrastructure and $ 183M for economic development projects.  Only $179 M of capital spending in the $1.7 B is offset by the federal Infrastructure Stimulus fund (which in combination with the province funds 2/3 of that total). 

Yet there are zero dollars available for acquiring green infrastructure and few of our politicians see the need for allocating any!  Shame.

Meanwhile the provincial politicians stand by while environmental standards are ignored and precious cultural heritage is destroyed.  Shame.

Federal politicians such as Gordon O’Connor, who managed to extend spending on $48 Billion of black infrastructure funding, cannot see how the $20 M SMHCRC proposal for green infrastructure qualifies for funding – even though it will meet the objective of the funding program by creating jobs and improving air and water quality. 

Evidently you have to pour concrete to qualify for green infrastructure funding. Shame.

Public Service?

Tim Marc, a city lawyer, represented the public at the OMB meeting organized by Urbandale on Nov 23.  This is the same Tim Marc who told Community Association Presidents and the SMHCRC in July that “The trees are coming down – no matter what”. 

Is it surprising that the result of the meeting was that OMB told Urbandale they cut down trees equal to 2 years supply of housing inventory?  One can only guess how vigorously Mr. Marc represented the public interest at that meeting. 

It is worth observing that the city’s legal department has had a very close relationship with developers over the years.  Not surprising since they work with developers on a daily basis – on both sides of the legal table. 

What is surprising is that the former city lawyer for the Regional Municipality of Ottawa Carleton now works for a developer, presumably to supplement his meagre city pension.  What does this say about the lack of conditions for accepting a public pension?  Why should we hold Cesaers wife to a higher standard of ethics than our public servants?

City staff originally estimated that fair market value of unserviced developable land inside the urban boundary is $210 K / acre which would put the acquisition of the Beaver Pond Forest at approximately $13 M.  Subsequently staff hired a consultant to arrive at a 3rd party valuation based on similar recent transactions.  That valuation is not far off of the staff estimate.

Yet staff are inexplicably refusing to release the 3rd party market evaluation they contracted for in October – not even to city council.  It is difficult to see this behaviour as consistent with public service.  Perhaps like the City police, they appear to have forgotten that they work for the public.

Win-Lose

Why does Urbandale appear to lack any moral responsibility for not developing the most ecologically sensitive lands in Ottawa?  A charitable view might be that they were unaware of the significance of the area when they purchased it.  This establishes a case for paying them fair market value for leaving it undisturbed.  However, Urbandale’s recent behaviour raises questions in the minds of some about their sincerity as a responsible developer.

According to Marianne Wilkinson, Urbandale recently decided to unilaterally reduce the 12 acre swap to 10 acres and to also dictate which 10 acres would be preserved in such a manner as to optimize their subdivision north of the Beaver Pond.  Then Urbandale pulled the land swap off of the table so that they can be paid more during an expropriation.

Many responsible businesses would attempt to reach a win-win situation in a situation like this.  Does Urbandale believe that win-lose deals with the community are best for maintaining a healthy public image?

Worse, Urbandale appears to have no interest in negotiating in good faith on selling the land to the City/Community and are now alledgedly asking for $40 M in compensation – a price increase that includes being paid for 40% land that they paid nothing for because they cannot develop it.   Is this more evidence of a win-lose mindset at Urbandale?

This is the same developer who is paying property taxes on a $6 M appraisal (which is presumably close to what they bought the land for in Sept 2000).  Do they see no shame in this? 

Meanwhile the public and other buisnesses are expected to pay urban property taxes at close to fair market value.  The city could easily find the funds for acquiring natural heritage land if developers paid their fair share of taxes!

Urbandale has also hired a lobbyist who has met with most city councillors, except Marianne Wilkinson, to ensure that they understand the developer’s position.  Some of the new councillors, even experienced ones such as Peter Clark, have declined to meet with representatives of the SMHCRC as a result.  So much for the city’s public participation policy. 

It does not appear that Jim Watson’s administration is off to the fresh start that everyone who voted for him hoped for.  Developers evidently still think that they run City Hall and that the public purse exists for their benefit.

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