With moss, ferns, tree canopy, a ravine and flowing water, one might think these wetlands around Cumberland could be far away from any human development.
It’s the human development proposed right around the corner, just to the west of downtown, though that has some asking questions.
At a recent council meeting, Steve Morgan of the Cumberland Wetlands Working Group was able to give members of council different perspectives, including visual ones, on what could be at stake for wetlands in the area proposed for further Coal Valley Estates development.
Many of the concerns council had already raised at meetings last year, but several members were happy to have the map overlays Morgan provided during his presentation to show them the features such as ravines and wetlands and what could be be affected. He pointed out the special role the wetlands play in the region for water retention.
“They serve a very important function to slow the water down,” he said. “They’re like storage tanks. They gather the water, and then they slowly release it into the wetlands.”
As part of his presentation, he showed maps, area photos and a short video about the site by filmmaker Peta Murray.
A concern is the potential waterflow affected by alterations to the land, resulting in runoff from streets. Some areas might have buffers but others do not. Morgan would to see a hydrological evaluation of the area. He also points out this goes beyond the sources of water to include the timing of how natural water systems operate.
Some parts in the park area also have steep cliffs above the ravine, and there are also questions about blasting proposed for the site.
“I’m not a geologist, but I can’t imagine that that’s a good thing for that wall,” he said. “We should have a geologist looking at this stuff.”
Ultimately, he is concerned the developer’s plans are not taking into account the need to protect the range of natural features in the area.
“Keep in mind, this is parkland. This is actually designated by the Province of B.C. as park,” Morgan said.
Members of council shared the concerns about the waterflows, blasting and steep terrain. Coun. Sean Sullivan told the speaker he was reiterating council’s concerns about the developer’s plans.
“I’ve been trying to hold their feet to the fire,” he said.
Part of the challenge for Morgan has been the maps provided by the developer, which is why he put together his own.
“They’re different every time you get a map,” he said.
Council members acknowledged they are dealing with a difficult piece of property for these later phases of CVE development. At meetings in July and December, they raised many of the same questions Morgan brought up, and the developer has made some changes.
Site adaptive planning, which takes a “design with nature” approach that requires adapting to diverse landscape features as well as natural processes at work, was raised as a possible solution for the site, as opposed to “blasting flat and building homes,” as Coun. Jesse Ketler described it.
Morgan responded that site adaptive planning might not result in the greatest number of plots for developers but is a way to retain more of the natural features. This parkland, he added, can itself provide an amenity for the new homeowners that buy in the area.
“I don’t think you can do your planning on a piecemeal basis … because it’s a system, it’s a great big system,” he said. “Site adaptive planning, of course, would be really the approach to take — but looking at the entire site.”