Proponents of the Burde Street Beaver Ponds were disappointed to learn of the breadth of San Group’s proposed master planned community for the area, unveiled last week.
San Group is proposing multi-density housing for a 75-acre parcel of land surrounding the two beaver ponds in Port Alberni. The project will cost up to $1.1 billion and take five to eight years to complete if it is approved.
“I’d like to see the entire property saved,” says Sandy McRuer, a retired professional forester and former outdoor tour guide. McRuer is one of several people advocating for protection of the beaver ponds.
“From my perspective (the proposed housing plan) is incredibly dense. The impact on the ponds will be immediate. I think this is far too aggressive,” he said. “I had envisioned something far less than this.”
McRuer said the ponds are not only home to a pair of beaver dams and a number of beavers, “it’s habitat for the painted turtle and that is a red-listed creature. They will have to find where these creatures nest and make sure they are not disturbed.”
That much construction over an extended period of time “will drive all the ducks away,” he added.
“I realize these are preliminary drawings and it’s going to change…there’s a lot of questions from what they’ve drawn here.”
San Group spokesperson Mike Ruttan claimed the beavers moved into the area “10 or 12 years ago” and built a five-metre dam that blocked Wolf Creek, interrupting spawning coho that flow into Rogers Creek.
“Part of the environmental plan is to rehabilitate the salmon spawning in Wolf Creek. We’re not going to do anything other than move or persuade (the beavers) to go somewhere else, into someone else’s tributary,” he said.
Moving the beaver dams would be detrimental to the wetlands, McRuer said. “The beaver dams are what keep the ponds as ponds. Otherwise they would drain away and all the life in them would disappear,” he posted online.
San Group’s proposal will require public consultation before any decisions are made because they are asking for rezoning.
City director of development services Scott Smith confirmed San Group submitted an application for rezoning and a change to the Official Community Plan (OCP) at 9 a.m. Thursday. A public process into the development will commence once the planning department and advisory planning committee have had a chance to go over the submission.
Ruttan said an environmental study of the site has been produced by fisheries biologist Dave Clough and partner Brad Remillard. Aside from the beaver ponds and surrounding wetland, there is a creek that used to bear salmon heading up Rogers Creek to spawn.
A Pacific Mayfair Estates brochure states a traffic study was developed, a geotechnical site assessment will be conducted and an evaluation of the project’s impact on city infrastructure “is underway.”
Mike Butler, who San Group hired for community consultation around Pacific Mayfair Estates development, has worked with similar projects in Edmonton, Alberta—including redevelopment of the Edmonton Coliseum lands. He said developers spent a year and a half developing the site “in conjunction with the community to make sure everyone was listened to and heard, and that the design plans were based around what the community was looking at.
“We’re trying to look for something that’s very much in line with both sites: we’re looking at a green development that’s going to have sustainable housing, electric…we’re looking at electric cars, earth farming and a lot of community gardens, and a lot of support for the community.”
San Group co-owner Kamal Sanghera said the company would ideally start with developing a trail system “so (construction) won’t disturb the public trails.” He added that company representatives intend to “consult with all the parties over the coming days” who have concerns and comments about the development proposal.
McRuer has concerns that San Group wants to use a portion of the Log Train Trail for vehicle access. He said the concept for the development appears to cut off the trail.
Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions said San Group’s vision “recognizes community value.”
“The trail access is critically important in these areas and it looks like they are proposing something that is going to not only appreciate and recognize what is already there, but really outdo what is there already.”
Responding to concerns that the proposed development will be using part of the Log Train Trail as a roadway, Minions responded on social media that the city owns the Log Train Trail “so it cannot be turned into road without approval. Council has not considered this but at absolute minimum would require the trail to be replaced, and we are unlikely to allow the trail to be changed unless significantly improved.
“We know there is a lot of work to be done.”