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Saving the waterfront

Activists bury city hall in letters opposing pair of south end developments

Members of the Stop the Sprawl group meet near the proposed site of a new housing development along Lake Ontario. The projects have seen continued dissent from residents who view them as destroying valuable greenspace in the city. Currently, the project is being discussed between city staff and the developer. (Photo by Joel Wittnebel).

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

The letters and dissent continues to pour into the inboxes of city hall as residents of Oshawa’s south end and beyond continue to keep up the fight against a pair of proposed developments near Lake Ontario.

A group of community activists calling themselves Stop the Sprawl have organized a petition and writing letter campaign that has sprawled into the hundreds of letters and even more pages of correspondence poking holes in consultant reports submitted by developer Graywood Developments and calling on city council to order a peer review of those documents.

To date, no such order has been made, but that isn’t slowing down residents.

A petition circulated both online and in hard copy has garnered over 1,000 signatures opposing the developments and according to Paul Hughes, a resident in the area, people are still willing to give their support as they walk along the waterfront trail.

“Within an hour I had 15 signatures,” he says of his last outing along the waterfront.

The pair of proposals were submitted by the devloper in January and include two parcels of land.

The first proposal, known as Block A, is a 1.12-hectare wedge of land directly on the corner of Phillip Murray and Park Road South. The application before council would see eight block townhouses, each as tall as three storeys, be constructed with a total of 56 dwellings and 132 parking spaces. The second, known as Block B, is a much larger proposal for a nearly 26-acre site sitting directly on the waterfront of Lake Ontario south of Renaissance Drive west of Park Road South. Block B could see 216 units erected on the site, including 184 single detached dwellings and 32 semi-detached units.

Both developments have seen a rash of similar concerns from residents directly adjacent to the sites and from nearby neighbourhoods, expressing concerns for safety with traffic and intensification in an area that already sees heavy traffic during GM’s shift change (the Oshawa Assembly sits directly across the road from the Block A proposal), as well as concern for migrating birds, other wildlife and even monarch butterflies that use the area.

In total, approximately 107 letters were received in opposition to Block A, while approximately 149 came in stating opposition to Block B. Many of these letters included the names of multiple residents on a single letter and many stated their opposition to both developments. Only six letters were received that did not state outright opposition to the projects, but listed several concerns.

“Our goal has been to make sure that this wasn’t about a small group of people worried about their view,” says resident Cindy Joncas. “This is about a community worried about losing a lifestyle.”

Many letters of concern state worries that the developments will eliminate more of the dwindling green space in the city and eliminate habitat enjoyed by many animals.

For resident Szanne McNutt, the success of the letter campaign is hard to judge, but she says she is surprised by the amount of contributions Stop the Sprawl received, and it’s definitely turned heads at city hall.

“I think it’s gotten their attention, but I don’t think they’re going to do anything about it,” she says.

Most recently, the amount of letters had city staff asking for some relief, as a motion appeared before council from staff asking that they no longer be required to make the letters public.

The motion notes that staff have received “considerable correspondence” related to the developments and that, “due to the volume of correspondence received concerning the applications it has become time consuming for staff to make these documents accessible for posting on the website.”

For that reason, they were asking to simply only be required to circulate the letters to members of council. However, during the meeting the motion came forward it was withdrawn before it could be voted on.

For Councillor John Aker, chair of the development services committee, he’s not surprised by the amount of correspondence that has been received related to the projects. He says it was clear from the start that the public were going to be engaged on the file. The first public meeting on the development, held in Janurary, lasted until nearly 2 a.m.

“When people stay for a seven and a half hours plus, you know they’re concerned,” he says.

Currently, Aker says that staff are working through the proposal and are going back and forth with the developer to find a solution to some of the concerns that have been raised.

“Oshawa has always wanted the lakefront trail to have a naturalized environment around it,” he says. “We only have one lakefront and we want to protect it for the future.”

To date, no timelines have been set for a revised report to come back to council.