----Brigil construction company acquires 80 acres in the Boucher Forest
Local construction company Brigil recently purchased 80 acres of property in the Boucher Forest located at 600 chemin Vanier. Stating that the purchased property makes up roughly 11 per cent of the entire forest, a press release issued by the company on October 5 emphasized their dedication to protecting 25 of its newly acquired acres, and that planned projects on the land will be developed over 55 acres – around seven per cent of the forest.
Noting that the Boucher Forest is 741 acres, Brigil says 110.7 acres are expected to be included in development plans for the upcoming tramway project, as indicated in the city’s new Land Use and Development Plan. Clarifying that the property used to be zoned to only accommodate one-storey residential buildings, Brigil states that Gatineau’s municipal council recently brought modifications to its urban plan, now allowing the construction of residential buildings up to 10 storeys tall and the development of low- and medium-density commercial infrastructure.
The project is planned to be located near a future transportation axis and Brigil added that the city has indicated the property as advantageous for infrastructural development, while respecting the urban perimeter. It hopes the project can result in the development of a complete community, offering options for sustainable mobility, and nearby businesses, parks, and public plazas, all while reducing the number of cars on the road.
Highlighting the presence of a 30- to 50-year-old Cedar Forest and a 150-year-old Maple Grove on the property, the company said preserving them will be paramount. Stating that the developable portion of the property is considered to be of low ecological value, Brigil says that two independent environmental studies have indicated the presence of high amounts of Buckthorn – an invasive toxic plant bad for the biodiversity of local ecosystems – and that the project will also focus on eradicating the species from the area as effectively as possible.
It also pointed to plans of integrating new native plants to the forest to enrich its biodiversity. Desiring to contribute to the Boucher Forest Park’s development while protecting the forest, the company said its project is envisioned to potentially provide an entrance to the park from the Plateau district where an interpretation centre, a pavilion, and public square could be built.
While wanting to set the highest possible ecological standards and expectations that comply with the Boucher Forest Foundation’s (FFB’s) mission and the forest’s conservation, Brigil said the exact type of environmental certification it will need for the project has yet to be decided.
Brigil stated that it is collaborating with the FFB, as in certain previous projects, and that it shares the same values. The company has supported the foundation financially in the past to protect the forest and it intends to keep doing so in the future. Brigil also encouraged the Conseil de l’environnement et du développement durable de l’Outaouais to contribute consultative services to the project.
Thrilled with the property purchase, Brigil Vice-president of Development and Design Jessy Desjardins said he’s happy that the land will remain in possession of local people who are passionate about preserving the Boucher Forest. “I am a proud pro-environment activist who advocates for urban development based on reducing our dependence on the automobile,” Desjardins said in a press release. He added that he plans to meet with local residents associations to gather information from the community to help design a project that meets public demands, needs, and expectations, and potentially set up dedicated citizen committees.
---Boucher Forest Foundation responds
Following the land purchase, the Boucher Forest Foundation responded on social media with a detailed update of its conservation efforts and how the acquisition should affect their plans of protecting as much of the forest as possible.
Stating that the newly acquired property is located on an eco-territory – encompassing around 27 per cent of the entire forest – which mandates certain environmental standards, FFB President Christina Richard told the Aylmer Bulletin that the foundation intends to work alongside Brigil to ensure the project meets the highest ecological expectations, and for other ways for the company to support the Boucher Forest Park. Stating that she became aware of the land purchase on October 1, Richard clarified that the land largely consists of an area deteriorated by European Buckthorn, but also includes a portion boasting numerous endangered and vulnerable species, such as Eastern Milksnake, Blanding’s Turtle, and Butternut.
Pointing out that the city currently owns around 55 per cent of the entire forest, Richard explained that 73 per cent of it is zoned for recreational activity, that 21 per cent is zoned residential, and that six per cent is zoned for multi-purpose use.
Richard believes that the Boucher Forest’s land acquisition versus forest protection conundrum is largely misunderstood, even among people most passionate about the subject – notably in terms of zoning regulations, property values, and who owns the desired properties. “I just want people to understand the file better,” Richard said. “Because if they do, we will make more progress. We’re trying to make the best of this context.”
Emphasizing that population growth and lawsuits from private landowners in the Boucher Forest in recent years have caused the value of its non-municipally-owned properties to skyrocket significantly, Richard gave a reminder that the city does not have unlimited dollars to spend, and that, in its partnership with the FFB, it has made great progress in efforts to ensure the forest’s perpetuity.
Estimating that the city needs at least $10 to $20 million to purchase the remaining privately-owned properties available in the forest, Richard said the FFB is dedicated to convincing candidates during the municipal election to commit to a 10-year acquisition plan to purchase the remaining land zoned as recreational and multi-purpose.
Always looking for financial support, she added that the FFB is meeting with other levels of government to discuss further potential solutions to purchase land. “Yes, it will be expensive,” Richard said, noting that the city’s latest bid for Boucher Forest property lost $4.1 million for a single property. “We’re not going to run after them … but all the candidates owe it to themselves to meet with us.”
Richard stated that, for the next 10 years, to allow for the park’s development to take shape, the Quebec Ministry of Transportation has officially ceded the right of way for the corridor in the middle of the Boucher Forest that connects with the Deschênes neighbourhood that is slated for a bridge to Ottawa. She added that the FFB is currently in the process of developing the park’s official trails and wooden walking bridges.
Richard encourages people to take action to protect the forest by volunteering or registering to become a member of the foundation, to spread the word about the need to preserve it, and to vote for the right candidates in the upcoming municipal election.
Regarding Gatineau’s ambition of protecting at least 75 per cent of the forest, Lucerne district councillor Gilles Chagnon told the Aylmer Bulletin that the city remains committed to preserving as much of it as possible.