In any democracy, as administrations change so do their priorities. In the case of environmental management, it often is the case that a single administration is capable of undoing decades of work to protect natural spaces. In Peterborough, the last several years have been marked with conflict around how our administration has approved countless measures to degrade the wetlands, creeks, and forests that are valued by humans and wildlife alike. With work commencing on the policy portion of the official plan, now is our chance to shape policy that will discourage environmentally destructive behavior by our city.
Harper Creek regulated to the side of the road by urban development. (2018)
There are many proponents of environmental degradation, one of the more obvious ones are real estate developers. Many real estate developers across the province have realized that it is not in their best interest to destroy the things that make these places desirable to live. Others in Peterborough have yet to catch up. Based on the sheer scale that they operate it is possible for them to have an outsized environmental impact on our city’s natural spaces. The approach thus far to prevent development within sensitive environmental areas has been to set a limit or buffer around each sensitive area and declare that no development should take place within these areas. Unfortunately, this has not been enough for the city to stop granting approvals that violate this policy.
One of the major drivers of development approvals for municipalities is development charges. Approvals for construction often come with a fee that is paid to the city. Therefore, the more development that a city approves, the greater access they have to funds. As an example, a recent apartment complex approved with a 20m setback from a provincially significant wetland (PSW) in Peterborough (100m beyond Otonabee Region Conservation Authority policies.) The development charges for the property are $12,910 per unit, totaling $555,130.00 raised for the city. When cash strapped city councils approve development, it is no wonder that when the environment comes into question a nice half a million dollar payout wins out.
The “conservation community” currently under construction at the edge of Peterborough.
I would propose that as part of the natural heritage system the following policy should be put in place:
“The city shall not collect development charges for site plans approved within 120m from provincially significant wetlands, 30m from permanent water bodies, or within areas identified as part of the natural heritage system”
This removes the cash incentive for approving development within environmentally sensitive areas. The other option that may be more appealing to some would be to offer developers a discount on development charges if properties that they are developing contain environmentally sensitive features providing a discount based on the area that is occupied. It by no means prevents developments from happening in this area, but it at least removes the dollar sign distraction from clouding the vision of our city council.