Boucher Forest, planning, and City Council
Judging from readers’ calls, the Bulletin’s recent report on possible housing and “development” inside Boucher Forest has many residents steaming. We’d been assured by the last City administration, and by the then-councillor for Deschênes, that the Forest was protected from exactly this prospect. The councillor ran in the last election with this “protection” as one of his accomplishments.
We read that a property developer still owns several pieces of the Forest, and is now considering both housing and a “business park” on these lots. This might alert us finally that political promises are valueless unless they are backed by legislation. If it’s not on paper, such protection doesn’t exist, period.
However, this is also an opportunity. We could see this proposal, not as an ecological disaster, but as a prompt to the City to get moving on this ignored file, and pass genuine protection. How about that, councillors, and before this fall’s municipal election?
Voters could use this very point as an aid to deciding which councillors (and political parties) to support.
And the City could also convince developers to act, even donate a park; corporate citizens have hearts – and brains.
Right now these huge green lungs of the city are zoned “deferred management” which means “some development permitted”, just not paving the whole thing. This zoning is a bit like being partially pregnant; the Forest is “partially protected” -- but will still get a business park plus housing with the streets, sewers and water, hydro lines, bus stops and run-off retention areas. That doesn’t sound like a forest; there’s no protection here at all.
The developer apparently believes we will swallow our planning principles and accept something less, something called an “ecological neighbourhood”. The City calls it an “eco-territory”. It’s a mistake to quibble over the meaning of “eco-territory”. That would draw our attention away from the pressing problem: rows of housing, a mall, paved parking lots, plus access streets, water lines, poles and other services.
Who knows what an ‘eco-territory” is – is it a concept similar to last year’s “protected territory”? Which eco-factors are to be protected? Gullies and streams? Wetlands? Bulldozed areas? City Council has to clarify these concepts and begin to act on its past promises.
And is urban planning actually done in Gatineau’s planning offices, real long-term planning?
That’s worth asking, because a look at today’s development near the Forest, especially around the Allumettières/Vanier intersection, tells us this is becoming a new hub. This intersection appears to be growing into Aylmer’s new town centre.
Where’s the “planning” in this? Uncontrolled commercial development serving mushrooming housing will put irresistible pressure, political and financial, on the nearby Boucher Forest. Over the years, the demographic pressures may become unstoppable – but isn’t it the purpose of planning to anticipate such negative developments?
Gatineau’s planners should take priorities and principles seriously. Aylmer’s centre does not have to be right next to the city’s greatest green asset.