City wants tract south of Stittsville rezoned as wetland

The City of Ottawa says the return of beavers to the Ottawa Valley helped expand a rural wetland south of Stittsville, and now that wetland needs to be officially protected.

100s of hectares to be designated 'significant wetland' 15 years after 1st proposed

A view of the land north of Flewellyn Road southwest of Stittsville. The city wants to rezone 318 hectares of the area as wetland. (Google)

The City of Ottawa says the return of beavers to the Ottawa Valley helped expand a rural wetland south of Stittsville, and now that wetland needs to be officially protected.

City council will be asked next week to add 318 hectares to the Goulbourn wetland — mostly centred around Flewellyn Road — something it's been considering since 2005.

That should end a "planning and regulatory limbo", city planner Nick Stowe said. Ontario labelled the areas significant wetland back then, but the city held off on its complementary zoning for years as it tried to deal with resident frustrations.

Land owners have disputed that their properties are true wetland. They blame nearby quarries for pumping out water and making their properties wetter. Some blame poor drainage after amalgamation. Others blame the widening of Highway 7.

Leave it to beavers

But city staff told the rural and agricultural affairs committee on Thursday that, after a 2016 study by Dillon Consulting, they have now concluded the string of wetlands expanded naturally.

Beavers played a big role in returning the area to wetland, Stow told the committee Thursday. He showed aerial photos of the most controversial areas, when they were farmland in 1976, and again in 1999, when they'd shifted to wetland dotted by a chain of beaver dams.

"Beavers were basically trapped out of the Ottawa valley almost 250 years ago, however by 1999 they had recolonized the area," said Stow.

Robin Tilger's home is on Flewellyn Road and it will fall on land designated as a significant wetland both by the province and in the city's official plan. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Farmers unconvinced

Robin Tilgner and her husband own nearly 40 hectares on Flewellyn Road. 

"Our families have been there since the 1950s, so we really have had a chance to watch agricultural land become increasingly wet and watching the trees die."

She's not convinced beavers are the only culprit, though. She's watched water levels rise before her eyes as quarries drain water, she said.

Now the land on which Tilgner's home sits will be rezoned wetland, docking property value, she said. That matters not because of any plans to sell to a developer, but because the couple is planning their estate, she said.

"We had a good idea of what the property was worth and about two-thirds has come off the book value," she said.

Property owners can still hire evaluators if they want to challenge their land designation — or seek compensation from the province — residents were advised at the committee meeting.

The dark-coloured areas show the 318 hectares that would be zoned 'significant wetland' according to Coun. Scott Moffatt's amended map. The lighter coloured wetlands have existed since before the 15-year controversy. (City of Ottawa)

Moffatt limits wetland boundary

The new wetland being zoned may be smaller than staff first recommended, however.

Consultant Dillon had studied the natural boundaries of the wetland, and staff proposed designating more than 500 hectares, saying turtles and plants don't obey the limits of a human map.

But at committee Thursday, Coun. Scott Moffatt had the boundary limited to 318 new hectares in the area that's always been in dispute, arguing home owners in West Carleton and elsewhere shouldn't suddenly be surprised to find themselves dragged in. 

If the rezoning passes next week, it could mark the end of a difficult file that predates Moffatt's time on council. It all began with one property owner who applied to create country estate lots in 2005 and triggered an evaluation of wetland boundaries, he said.

"Somehow that became all of this," Moffatt said. "It just got bigger and bigger."