Environmentally sensitive wooded lands near Henderson Drive will remain protected, following a decision by the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal (LPAT) last week.
On Tuesday, LPAT released its decision into the ongoing battle over lands that have come to be known as the “Henderson Forest”.
Advocates have been fighting to preserve the land in question since applications came to Aurora’s Committee of Adjustment to make way for a single detached home on portions of two lots on Henderson. The plots, which are zoned for residential, are located on environmentally sensitive areas of the Oak Ridges Moraine, which means that any developments must have minimal impact on the environment.
The minor variance applied for by landowners was initially denied by the Committee of Adjustment and their decision was subsequently denied by LPAT on January 26.
“I am very pleased that the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal made the decision to uphold the decision made at the municipal level,” said Mayor Tom Mrakas in a statement. “The Henderson Drive area in question is home to a large number of species of birds, animals and trees, and it is our responsibility to protect them. I would like to thank area residents, who passionately defended their view, as well as staff who worked to ensure that the lands remained protected.”
The decision was, of course, warmly greeted by the Henderson-area residents who began the fight.
George Skoulikas, President of the Henderson Forest Ratepayer Association (HFRPA) said he and members were “grateful” the tribunal “recognized the enormous ecological value of the Henderson Lands.”
“This is a huge victory for the community at a time when the environment is under considerable attack,” he said. “These properties are entirely within a Key Natural Heritage Feature (KNHF) Significant Woodland and contain other KNHFs Significant Valleyland and Fish Habitat. The sites are also home to several at-risk species of wildlife protected under the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, federal Endangered Species Act and/or the Town's Official Plan.”
Added HFRPA Vice President Wendy Kenyon, “As a result of the Tribunal's decision, the hundreds of mature trees will still stand, species at risk including endangered species, snapping and painted turtles and red-headed woodpeckers remain protected, the wetlands remain unharmed, the valleylands retain their natural form and the lands' rich biodiversity remains intact. Other wildlife such as foxes, skunks and pileated woodpeckers can maintain a peaceful existence away from human disturbance.”
Despite being pleased at the outcome, however, their enthusiasm, he said, was tempered by a flawed process.
“It requires a herculean effort on the part of a community to ensure that environmental justice is achieved,” said Skoulikas. “Furthermore, a process that relies so heavily on the input of those with a vested interest in the outcome is destined to fail. You don't place a fox in charge of the hen house.”
“One of the main findings of the Tribunal was that not enough information had been submitted by the applicant in order to assess the true potential environmental impacts,” added HFRPA Social Media Coordinator Maricella Sauceda. “This is something the community has been fighting for from the very beginning, almost 4 years ago. We firmly believe that if the initial submission had gone unchallenged, the lands would already have been flattened, the hundreds of trees removed, wildlife scattered and the subsequent environmental impacts left unchecked.”
The group, noted Mr. Skoulikas, would welcome a thorough review of the Henderson Drive application process so that important lessons can be learned.
“In a recent press release the Mayor stated that it's our collective responsibility to protect the trees and wildlife inhabiting these lands. We wholeheartedly agree. Given the Mayor's encouraging statement we very much hope that Council and staff will explore creative ways to protect these properties in perpetuity. While, in theory, nothing prevents future attempts to develop, given the indisputable ecological value of these mature woodlands which are fittingly described in the Tribunal Decision document as "unique and environmentally sensitive", it would be shocking if any future application could ever be approved. This would go against the grain of Aurora's very identity as a green community.
At a time when the need to retain our woodlands and wildlife habitat has never been greater, any subsequent applications would require extensive scrutiny and, for sure, the community will be watching.”
Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran