Council standing firm on naturalized spaces, residents upset

July 24, 2020   ·   0 Comments

By Mike Baker

Orangeville Council is refusing to budge on its plans to foster a collection of naturalized spaces in the community, despite opposition from local residents. 

Almost a year ago, Orangeville resident Elisa Gardner brought forward various concerns that she, and other homeowners along Hutchinson Crescent, had with a naturalized space that backs onto their backyards. She presented a petition signed by a dozen homeowners calling for the Town to “properly maintain” the area. 

Earlier this month (July 13), she was back before Council again, questioning local officials on why there had been no movement on the issue. 

“This item remains a concern for myself, my neighbours and the community. This season, we are having the same issues. I totally support naturalizing certain areas, however there are more appropriate locations, and this isn’t one of them,” Ms. Gardner said. 

The space in question, while backing onto several residential properties, also lines a popular walking trail in the Hansen Boulevard subdivision. 

“It’s important to note just how many adults, children and pets walk this area. Just yesterday (being July 12), I had a lady complaining as her dog went into the uncut area and came out covered in burs. Please keep in mind there are people who live here and want to be able to enjoy the path. We’re really looking for, and hoping for a solution here,” Ms. Gardner added. 

Naturalization is a process that involves little or no maintenance intervention to allow the eco-system to return to its natural condition and restore ecological integrity. 

Council also received two pieces of correspondence, one from Rob Mair and another from Melanie Myers, criticizing Council’s decision to leave the space behind Hutchinson Court to grow. Mr. Mair stated the area “looks terrible, and unsightly”, and that “it’s not fair to the residents, who are paying such high property taxes, to not have this area maintained”. 

Ms. Myers, who lives in the area, went one step further, stating the Town was potentially in breach of contract by allowing the green space to grow. 

“It’s important for Council to know this was not in the agreement signed when we purchased our house. In no way were we aware this (area would be allowed to grow), because it was not included in the (list of) lots that would not be maintained,” Ms. Myers wrote. “You can’t just keep changing things without informing residents, or letting us have a say.”

She added, “It’s not even so much about how it looks, it’s about how it’s effecting our ability to safely use our backyard with our children. There’s not just weeds back there. My husband has never had allergies, but suffers really bad now because of this. We also have an infestation of funnel spiders, mice, moles and noxious weeds growing in the yard. It’s so frustrating to deal with this in a subdivision home. Our kids can’t play in the backyard without getting bit with by a spider.”

She would go on to say that her young son had to be administered a round of antibiotics after being bit by a spider in their yard earlier this year. 

In a report prepared for Council, Town Staff indicated the land behind Hutchinson Court was always slated for naturalization, and was outlined as such in a service agreement signed by both the Town and Sarah Properties Ltd., who developed the area back in 2012. Ray Osmond, the Town’s General Manager of Community Services, indicated the municipality could be opening itself to a lawsuit if it went back on that service agreement. 

The topic of naturalized spaces was a key component of both the Orangeville Sustainable Neighbourhood Action Plan, and the Town’s Climate Change Adaption policy. In his report, Mr. Osmond states that naturalization has been a widely accepted approach to increasing local resilience and minimizing the impacts of climate. 

“Naturalized areas increase the Town’s ability to deal with extreme rainfall, and minimize flood risks by increasing filtration,” Mr. Osmond wrote. “Naturalized areas act as a natural filter be intercepting pollutants such as oils, fertilizers, pesticides, sediments and chemicals that would otherwise enter the water system. Naturalized areas are key to supporting groundwater recharge process.”

There are currently eight areas across the community that the Town has slated for naturalization. Alongside the space behind Hutchinson Crescent, there are spaces in the area of Wardlaw Avenue, south of Myers Drive, in the area of Edenwood Crescent, at Harvey Curry Park on Townline, along a trail south of Chapman Road and along a trail area off Hunter Road. The total square footage of these areas is approximately 3.5 acres of land. 

Should Council entertain the idea of eliminating the naturalized spaces, it would come at a considerable cost. Currently, the municipality doesn’t possess the equipment necessary to cut down extensive shrubbery, with Mr. Osmond saying the Town would need to purchase a dedicated truck and trailer, walk behind mower, gas powered trimmer and backpack blower at a cost of approximately $15,000. Factoring in staff costs to cut down the areas, such a project would eventually set the Town back in the region of $20,000. 

“All of our equipment we currently have, for the most part, is to be used on sports fields, manicured grass areas and levelled spaces. If the decision is to go in and change the area, to cut down the naturalized area, we will have to use different types of equipment to cut the area out, which will include the removal of stumps and heavy brush,” Mr. Osmond informed Council. 

Coun. Grant Peters said he would not be in support of removing the naturalized areas. 

“They were put there for a reason. They have a place in this town. If we look at this area, we have to look at all areas where we have supposed encroachments of natural species on what are being referred to as subdivision lots. Eventually, this town will be nothing but asphalt and grass,” Coun. Peters said. “That’s not the Orangeville I want to live in.”

Mayor Sandy Brown and Coun. Debbie Sherwood also spoke favourably about the naturalized spaces, with Coun. Sherwood specifically stating she found all eight of the dedicated growth areas in town to be “beautiful”. 

That wasn’t a belief shared by Coun. Todd Taylor, who called the site behind Hutchinson Crescent ugly during a meeting last year. 

“If this was a residential property we would be in there with bylaw and we would be giving these people a bill for not maintaining the property,” Coun. Taylor said. “The residents who are there, that have to state out at this on a regular basis, and myself included, don’t think this looks nice and really firmly believe it should be cut.”

He added, “Frankly, none of us live in this area. I think it would be prudent to follow the advice of the residents and vote to support them.”

With Council seemingly against getting rid of the naturalized spaces, Coun. Taylor wondered, if this was a financially motivated issue to ensure the Town doesn’t spend $20,000 alleviating the issue, whether Council would consider allowing the residents themselves to clean up the area. This wasn’t something that Mr. Osmond encouraged. 

“Right now, we can’t have the public going into public spaces and start cutting down properties outside of their own private property. These are maintained by operations staff, and if people were to trespass into public space and start cutting the area, they would be in violation of the public bylaw,” Ms. Osmond said. 

With Council not supporting that move, Coun. Taylor went on record to ask residents to please not take action into their own hands and attempt to cut down the area. In the end, Council voted 6 to 1 in favour of keeping the eight naturalized spaces across town, with Coun. Taylor the sole vote against.

Readers Comments (0)

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.