Hudson’s new admin freezes development

Above, the colour-coded map generated by Eco2Urb in its January 2020 final report will form the basis for changes to Hudson’s master plan. Tier 1 core conservation zones, including Ottawa River and Viviry Creek floodplains, Alstonvale escarpment and wetlands at its base, the Nature Conservancy, Sandy Beach and Willowbrook are in pale yellow. Forest buffers are in pale green and blue. Montreal Metropolitan Community and Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC planning priorities are in mid-blue. The remaining dark blue sectors represent isolated woodlots not included in other categories.

Monday’s December council meeting concluded with the unanimous adoption of two resolutions that together will have a major impact on at least three major residential developments, including Sandy Beach, Willowbrook and an as-yet-unpublicized subdivision near the centre of town as well of scores of smaller holdings throughout the municipality.

Draft Bylaw 525.3 — subject to approval by referendum — proposes to amend Hudson’s master planning and land use bylaw by incorporating conservation data from three studies going back to 2008. The Teknika (2008) and CIMA+ (2017) reports together recommended that the town prioritize the protection of major wetlands and forests of interest, while Eco2Urb (2020) proposed a conservation plan based on a “connected, protected area network” of fields, forests and wetlands with the resiliancy to sustain extreme weather and emerging pests and diseases.

Council also adopted an interim control resolution (RCI) imposing a 90-day freeze on construction on, or subdivision of, any lot falling within wetlands or woodlots characterized in the Eco2Urb conservation plan. The freeze precludes the issuance of subdivision or construction permits for main buildings on all such lots as well as tree-cutting. The final determination of whether a lot is in or out will be left to third-party biologists and land surveyors.

Update: Monday’s freeze leaves at least eight of the 23 Phase 1 Willowbrook buyers with potentially worthless purchase agreements and no guarantee their deposits will be refunded. Although the town disagrees with the characterization, a number of potential homeowners contend the RCI is being applied retroactively to an unknown number of lots in Willowbrook’s first phase. They reject the town’s inference that they bear some responsibility (caveat emptor), noting that the environment ministry granted approval to a revised subdivision plan March 10/21, followed by council’s approval of the models and materials for 28 single family dwellings.

In her remarks to some two dozen residents attending the live meeting and to those participating via Zoom, mayor Chloe Hutchison said the RCI would buy the time required for the drafting and adoption of the changes to the master plan. She didn’t rule out extending the freeze if more time was needed. The RCI is needed because “the Town of Hudson wants to ensure the protection of these areas during the consultations and development of protection measures by adopting specific rules until the concordance bylaw’s adoption.”

The town’s authority to impose the freeze is derived from a bylaw adopted this past July at a special meeting of the Vaudreuil-Soulanges regional municipality (MRC). Bylaw 232 requires municipalities in the MRC to “identify, map and characterize wetlands, particularly those of 0.3 hectares and more, and adopt a wetland conservation plan under the Land Use Planning and Development Plan (SADR3 or simply schema). The latest version of the schema also requires that municipalities in the MRC “to integrate standards aiming to limit the felling of trees,” a change prompted by the previous council’s adoption of a comprehensive canopy-protection bylaw.

Asked how many properties will be affected by the freeze, Hutchison and Director-General Philip Toone were unable to provide numbers, although the mayor conceded it would be “hundreds.” A map at the back of the hall similar to the one above wasn’t large enough to allow individual landowners to identify their lot. Concerns were also raised about how residents would be able to learn whether their property was one of those affected, a situation similar to that which erupted in 2019 over a draft proposal to impose a 30-metre buffer around all designated wetlands in town.

Eventually, Hutchison and Toone agreed that a flier should be sent to all residents, informing them of an upcoming 15-day written-consultation period in lieu of a public consultation.

Despite the lack of specifics, draft bylaw 525 hints at the extent of the freeze. “According to [Eco2Urb’s estimates] concerning the natural areas most susceptible to be developed, approximately 27% (199 hectares) of the town’s woodlands are prone to being developed (…) These areas are mainly located next to the town’s urban core and include western Como sectors as well as those along Gary Cirko Trail, the Viviry River, Sandy Beach, Pointe Parsons and Bellevue Street.”

Superimposing the Teknika and CIMA+ studies on the Eco2Urb template, anyone familiar with Hudson’s topography can figure out what sectors will be impacted. Begin with the Ottawa River shoreline, including several proposed developments below the escarpment that runs between Como and Choisy. The escarpment itself runs a long yellow line the length of the town. Sandy Beach, Parsons Point, the Nature Conservancy and the Viviry Valley Conservation Area are obvious candidates for conservation. In Como, the green-zoned holdings of a dozen large landowners will be off-limits to development. Bellevue, and the wetlands that lie to the west, will be frozen.

The mayor also confirmed to Charleswood resident Louise Craig that characterizations of individual properties would result in permanent constraints on development.

Reaction to the freeze and bylaw reset was mixed. Realtor and Alstonvale resident Youri Rodrigue questioned the need to freeze development at a time when the town was benefitting from the latest real-estate boom and wondered whether it was a pretext to put the brakes on new construction.

Hutchison insisted the freeze was temporary and limited to certain sectors, based on the intention to adopt a conservation plan first voiced in 2007. “It’s time for us to take a hard look [at incorporating conservation measures in Hudson’s master plan.] As for the timing of the freeze, “…there’s less impact this time of year.”

Others voiced displeasure that council wasn’t going far enough. Pyke Court resident Adrian Burke, part of the Nature Hudson pressure group, urged council to take stronger measures to shut down the Sandy Beach project, based on a $10,000 endangered-species characterization study by TerraHumana Solutions. “Enough of these old, tired arguments of fearmongering,” Burke thundered. (I’ll blog separately on the contents of the Humana study.) Cam Gentile, whose holdings include recently subdivided lots along Alstonvale Road, urged council to stop fooling around with legalities and find the money to buy Sandy Beach from Nicanco. Main resident June Penney urged the town to “put out a questionnaire to find out what citizens want, not what the mayor wants.”

“Council has a responsibility of fiscal prudence,” the mayor replied.

At one point in the long evening, the mayor said the town was talking with Vaudreuil-Dorion about the intent to convert the exo rail line between the two municipalities into a recreational corridor. Although the link wasn’t made, Eco2Urb noted in its 2020 report that the grasslands and vegetation along the disused right of way have evolved into exactly the type of linear wildlife corridor proposed in Bylaw 525.3. If mayor Hutchison was aware of the connection, she didn’t let on.

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