“Planning committee hear our plea. Don’t murder the Tannery trees!” The chant echoed against the limestone walls of Kingston City Hall as No Clearcuts Kingston (NCK) held a “Rally to Protect Trees and Democracy” in Confederation Park on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022.
Over 100 people attended the rally, which was planned to occur just ahead of the City Planning Committee Meeting to vote on the City staff recommendation to amend the Official Plan and zoning by Law to allow Jay Patry Enterprises Inc., to begin development on the lands known as the Davis Tannery Property.
The proposed development is a 30-acre brownfield site in the City of Kingston, approximately 20 minutes from the downtown core, where Patry is intending to build 1,500 units of apartments, 4,650 square metres of commercial space, and a private dock and boathouse for the Kingston Rowing Club.
NCK presented the City with a hardcopy petition signed by more than 3,500 people opposing the clearcut and development proposed, along with 1,500 virtual signatures collected online at change.org.
As well, one of the rally organizers, NCK’s Kathleen O’Hara, pointed out that more than 50 people spoke against Patry’s proposal to “clearcut more than 2,000 trees, pave over part of a woodland, and build 1,450 (now 1,700) units at two special Planning Committee meetings in the spring. Many more have sent letters and emails.”
The organizers of the rally feel that the City’s decision to hold the Planning Committee vote on Thursday, Aug. 4, in mid-summer, was both undemocratic and unfair.
“City officials know that most people are in holiday mode,” said O’Hara, “To hold a vote on this complex and controversial project now is highly inconvenient for the many members of the public who oppose it.”
The agenda and reports for the Planning Committee meeting were posted on the City’s website on Thursday, Jul. 28, 2022, for public consumption. According to the City, “typical publication standards for Committee would have the agenda available on the website at 3:30 p.m. on the Friday the week before the meeting, but staff were able to publish this agenda earlier.”
However, Robert MacInnis of NCK called this insufficient time. “To release a lengthy report just before the Civic Holiday long weekend and expect people to wade through it and prepare a delegation in just a few days is ridiculous,” MacInnis said. “I’m sure we all expect better behaviour from City Hall.”
In a press release by NCK the group alleged, “It appears the City wants to avoid public awareness and participation this time. This might be because City Staff want Council to give them the go-ahead to ask the Minister of Municipal Affairs for a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO). An MZO would allow Patry to ignore any environmental and planning regulations protecting the Provincially Significant wetland. It is a ‘weapon of mass destruction’ being over-used by the Ford government.”
“Patry knew the rules when he bought the land, and he needs to follow them,” noted MacInnis. “City Staff and Mayor Paterson, who supports the MZO, should be upholding those rules, instead of helping to over-rule them.”
Many individuals who have declared themselves candidates in the upcoming municipal election were present to speak against the clearcut, including Tina Fraser who is running for mayor. Fraser agreed that it was unfair to hold such an important meeting midsummer “when 75 per cent of people might be out of town” or otherwise engaged, calling the meeting “undemocratic.”
Wendy Stephen, an elementary school teacher running in Lakeside district explained that while the idea of “digging up contaminated soil and replacing it with something new sounds good in theory… clear cutting and soil removal are not the only way that we could revitalize this land. It’s more than just trees and water: we’re talking about entire complex ecosystems here,” she noted. “Patry wants to replace the wetland with another wetland. But we know that you cannot replace a wetland with a manmade hole in the ground. It is not the same thing.”
Jeremy Milloy, who spoke passionately on behalf of River First YGK, said, “The former Tannery lands is a site of both legacy contamination and natural regeneration. Adjacent to our river, the lifeblood of our community, it is essential that impacts on the river of the proposed remediation and development be fully understood and considered before putting public resources and funding behind a project that would then be handed over to the province for supervision. The Tannery lands may be private property, but the river is everyone’s concern and impacts on the river must be considered first.”
No doubt the rally attendees were elated to learn that the Planning Committee, at the end of a whopping six-hour meeting, voted not to recommend the proposal to City Council.
O’Hara sent this comment early Friday morning, August 5, 2022: “The Planning Committee vote not to approve Jay Patry’s uncompromising and destructive proposal was a victory for citizen awareness and activism. Too often an unpopular development will go ahead in a neighbourhood after just a handful of locals fought it, and lost. The Tannery fight has brought together citizens from across the city who are seeing a nature-destroying, pro-developer pattern, and they don’t like it. This was their victory, along with the thoughtful councillors who listened to them.”