A plan to accelerate housing development in an ecologically diverse area teeming with ancient trees and animal habitats is raising concerns for conservationists who have been fighting for years to protect pristine land west of Halifax.
The Nova Scotia government last month announced the Sandy Lake-Sackville River area as one of nine locations where development will accelerate as the province deals with a booming population, skyrocketing real estate prices and a limited number. of accommodation.
But as the province rushes to build 6,000 private housing units in the area west of the lake near Bedford, a coalition of 27 community groups has tried to expand a small protected park on the east side and push back the builders.
“I encourage the public to walk on the west side of [Sandy Lake]. They will just shake their heads that people would really realize there, ”said Walter Regan, president of the Sackville Rivers Association, one of the groups that make up the coalition.
Regan’s group wants to see Sandy Lake Park, a 404-acre property owned by the Halifax Regional Municipality that has nearly doubled to protect forests, wetlands and animal habitats.
The coalition questions the sustainability of the plan
He said wild Atlantic salmon, mainland moose, ancient trees and more could be at risk if development occurs anywhere in the proposed 728-hectare park, which would include land chosen for development.
Regan criticized the expedited process, saying there was a lack of community consultation.
“You might be able to speed things up, but are you going to do it sustainably? Ten years into the future, we’ll look back and say, ‘We didn’t need those 6,000 units. We should’ve listened to people telling us that wildlife and the endangered plants and animals would have been worth saving, ‘”he said.
In addition to development concerns destroying forests and decreasing water quality, Regan said he was concerned about the increase in car traffic in the area and the disruption of animal migration.
He estimates that 13,000 people could relocate to the area, resulting in more than 4,000 cars driving daily on Hammonds Plains Road, an already busy thoroughfare extending west from Bedford to a number of suburban communities.
Environmental studies to consider: task force
The Sandy Lake-Sackville River site was proposed by the Housing Task Force, a panel of city and provincial officials.
Panel chairman Geoff MacLellan, a former provincial liberal cabinet minister, said environmental human resource studies in the Sandy Lake area will be considered when creating a development plan.
“We need to find that balance between protecting critical ecological areas and finding places for development needed during the housing crisis. So there is a fine line, and it is our duty to make sure we follow it,” he said.
MacLellan defended the accelerated timeline.
“We are not trying to trample the public consultation and council process, but there are opportunities to streamline some of these processes to reduce the process by months and sometimes years,” he said.
“This is what we have the task of doing.”
In February 2021, the Sandy Lake-Sackville River Regional Park Coalition unsuccessfully appealed to the Halifax Regional Council’s environmental committee to expand Sandy Lake Park.
With you. Tim Outhit, whose Bedford-Wentworth district includes the park, said he was in favor of an expansion, but not the proposed 728 hectares.
Outhit said developers would have to pay 50% of the costs to improve Hammonds Plains Road in order to handle the increase in traffic.
Council recently commissioned Bedford-based McCallum Environmental to conduct an environmental assessment of the area to possibly propose a conservation boundary to the province and developers. The study is ongoing.
But Regan said any proposed border not within 728 hectares would be “frivolous” when it comes to conservation.
“We have to have housing with the environment, not housing against the environment,” he said.
In 2018, the Halifax Regional Municipality Green Network Plan, a land management and community planning strategy, identified three wildlife corridors in the areas surrounding Sandy Lake, meaning the area is important for animal migration and l ‘habitat.
‘The wrong way to go’
Karen McKendry of the Ecology Action Center, a member of the Sandy Lake-Sackville River coalition, said Sandy Lake Park’s vision has always been an expansion since its founding in 1971.
“We know there are these two possible futures for this: development or expansion. The announcement that it will be accelerated, we definitely think is the wrong way to go,” said McKendry, wildlife awareness coordinator with the Halifax Environmental Organization.
McKendry said people should visit the park and swim off its beach to understand its importance.
“It is one of our very special lakes because, unlike many other lakes in Halifax and Dartmouth, it is a deep, clear lake,” he said.
“If you put accommodation in the springs of the lake, you will probably ruin it.”