George Skoulikas, President of the Henderson Forest Aurora Ratepayer Association (HFARA), sent questions to the mayoral candidates.
“To hold the Town of Aurora and government agencies fully accountable for protecting key natural heritage features and species at risk within the town of Aurora and to encourage conservation of green space”.
The following are questions and my answers:
Do you intend to protect Aurora’s remaining natural areas? If ‘yes’, how? If ‘no’, why not?
Yes. If elected, I intend to protect Aurora’s remaining natural areas to the best of my ability.
As a policy driven leader, I will set the expectation that development applications must adhere to provincial, regional and local policies, especially our Official Plan (OP) Policies, that protect Aurora’s natural features. We need to share information openly with the public, encourage participation and engagement, and collectively set the bar high and maintain it.
Importantly, and in keeping with what the province is instructing municipalities to do, I will strive to protect Aurora’s natural areas by increasing the housing mix to include more row-houses and town-houses and shift to higher density housing developments along “strategic growth areas” like the Aurora GO Station area, the Promenade and other major transportation routes. Intensification isn’t popular with everyone; however, with the proper implementation of our policies, Aurora must endeavour to meet growth targets without sacrificing our remaining green space.
While our Town will continue to grow, I will continue to ask the question: “are we maintaining the proper balance between growth and protecting the environment?” I’ve seen the loss of so many mature trees over the years due to developments. How many of these trees could have been saved had the Town’s ‘bar’ been set higher? Development applications that impact environmental features, remove mature trees, destroy species at risk habitat and drain wetlands must not only be evaluated thoroughly by staff, Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority and (where applicable) Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks, but also scrutinized by Council to ensure all policies that protect natural areas have been applied and all measures taken to avoid negative impacts, including proper sized buffers.
Aurora developed the Corporate Environmental Action Plan (CEAP), to “protect and enhance the natural environment”. This is an excellent initiative, and in my opinion there is opportunity to improve our evaluation of objectives achieved by also measuring what we’ve lost. For example, the CEAP 2021 Progress Report that was brought before Council last month mentions under the heading ‘Biodiversity and Natural Heritage’ that 1900 trees/shrubs were planted. This is a fantastic achievement but we should also measure this against how many trees were lost due to development. Is it not the net effect that we should be focusing on? How else can we know whether we’re doing a good job? If elected, I will also make sure that policies in CEAP are followed and implemented.
Finally, Aurora’s Official Plan is currently under review, so this presents an important opportunity for Council, staff and residents to ensure that policies protecting Aurora’s natural areas are strengthened, not weakened.
Do you think the Town has successfully balanced new development with protection of natural areas? Please explain your answer?
No. In the past 2 Council terms, I have attended and listened to all Council meetings. Based on what I’ve observed, I don’t think Aurora has successfully balanced new development with protection of natural areas because, policies that are already in place to protect natural areas have not, in my opinion, been properly applied.
On my Facebook page and my Living in Aurora BLOG, I have reported on a number of development applications that have greatly impacted natural areas in favour of development. For example, I recently covered the environmental impacts of the Shining Hill Phase 2 development: https://www.livinginaurora.com/shining-to-shameful-death-of-oak-ridges-moraine-in-aurora/
I think that understanding the past will help me improve the balance between growth and environmental protection going forward.
In the future, I believe that it would be in Aurora’s best interest to have Town Staff and Council take responsibility for looking at environmental recommendations being made by the Conservation Authority and not simply deferring decisions to LSRCA.
In summary, it can be argued that planning decisions have sided too generously with developers and at the expense of the natural environment, especially where a rejection to an application is easily appealed to the Ontario Land Tribunal. I believe that, by properly and fully applying the policies that are in place to protect the natural areas within Aurora, we can correct the balance and achieve appropriate growth that will benefit both future and current Aurorans. Of course, we have to watch the evolving policies of the revised Official Plan and I would urge all residents to do that.
Will you support the Town’s continued protection of the land locally known as the ‘Henderson Forest’? If ‘yes’, how will you do this? If ‘no’, why not?
If elected, I will definitely support the continued protection of the “Henderson Forest”.
Each time we lose natural areas, we lose the benefits they provide; such as carbon sequestration, natural filtration of contaminants, soil erosion control, wildlife habitat, health and cultural benefits to residents. It’s important for Aurora to maintain and protect its natural areas, for today’s residents and future generations. Henderson Forest is one of these areas and needs to be protected from development.
From what I know, the entire Henderson Forest lands are occupied by Oak Ridges Moraine mature woodlands, it’s a valleyed area with wetland and a watercourse at the base of the valley. I’m also aware that this area provides habitat for wildlife, including snapping turtles.
If elected, I will start by strictly enforcing the environmental policies that apply to the Henderson Forest lands; including the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan.
Ultimately, given that the Town owns and controls adjacent Case Woodlot, it would likely make sense for the Town to purchase the lands should this be the only way to save them from development.