BMW dealership plans to pave a forest and put up a parking lot

Residents and the area councillor are speaking out against a south Ottawa car dealership's plans to expand its parking lot through a nearby forest.

Residents, area councillor say development was expected, but not for parking

Otto's BMW Dealership sits next to the Hunt Club Forest where an expanded parking could soon be built. (Celeste Decaire/CBC)

Residents who live near the Ottawa airport and the area councillor oppose plans by a local car dealership to build a parking lot over a portion of a forest along Hunt Club Road.

Otto's BMW has requested permission from the City of Ottawa to extend its parking lot over approximately 1.57 hectares of the forest due to current space issues.

After hearing about the dealership's plan, nearby resident Manuel Costa started a Facebook group called "Save the Hunt Club Forest" to stir up conversation in the neighbourhood.

"We are in a climate emergency worldwide. It's an existential threat. And somebody has the guts to cut a forest to make a parking lot? I mean, it's so obnoxious to me," Costa said.

Coun. Riley Brockington, who represents River Ward, says his constituents want to pump the brakes on the potential parking lot.

"This is going over like a lead balloon in my community. It's not something I can support. I have strong reservations with this from both a planning sense and a community sense," said Brockington.

Nearby resident Sylvia Bakker, who walks through the Hunt Club forest regularly, says she knew development here was always likely. (Celeste Decaire/CBC)

Brockington acknowledges the forest, which is owned by the Ottawa International Airport Authority, always had plans for development, but there is no demand or need for more parking lots.

He says the community would like a project geared toward bettering the city. 

Members of the Hunt Club Community Association also want the parking lot proposal put in reverse.

"At a time when the City of Ottawa is under a climate emergency, and there are challenging federal targets for reducing net emissions, this proposal which has no provision for mitigating the climate impact is going in the wrong direction," said association president Brian Wade.

Pine trees help the atmosphere, residents say

Part of the forest under consideration for the new parking lot contains rows of mature red pine trees, which are about 55 years old, and only half-way through their expected lifetime. Coincidentally, the red pine effectively absorbs carbon from the atmosphere.

That's another reason why the community has petitioned to leave them be, residents say. 

Sylvia Bakker, who has lived in the area since 2007, says she knew part of the forest would likely be developed when she moved to the neighbourhood, but hopes for a better plan.

Bakker says she has seen an increase in walkers through the forest during the pandemic and stressed the importance of the nature path.

"The forest definitely keeps me sane. My husband and teenagers will tell you that if I don't go out there regularly I am crabbier than normal," she said.

The dealership was approved for a parking lot expansion years back, but only recently applied for that space. (Celeste Decaire/CBC)

Dealership to replace trees

In a statement, Otto's BMW said the "small parcel" of forest land was already zoned for a parking lot, and their proposal is in line with both the City of Ottawa's official plan and the airport's master plan.

The dealership said it would be planting three trees for each one uprooted by the development.

"[We] take any ecological implications related to this project very seriously," the statement said. "Studies are ongoing to ensure best environmental processes moving forward."