Tewin clearcutting needs to be explained, says committee chair
Ottawa staff are looking into farming intentions of Tewin owners
The chair of the City of Ottawa's environment and climate change committee wants staff to explain how hundreds of trees were cut down without a permit at the city's future suburb of Tewin and what could happen next under the tree protection bylaw.
Capital Coun. Shawn Menard said drone video taken by CBC News shows that the Tewin development partners — the Algonquins of Ontario and Taggart Group — were doing more than cleaning up from May's derecho, as they have stated.
For several weeks, residents near Piperville and Anderson roads in Ottawa's rural southeast had heard equipment operating at night and had seen trucks carrying logs, but neither neighbours nor the community association had been told any work was to take place.
Drone cameras sent up first by concerned neighbours and then CBC News show a swath of about 70 hectares has been clear cut in recent weeks behind a buffer of trees.
Shortly after CBC News reported that story Wednesday morning, the city's interim general manager of planning, real estate, and economic development Don Herweyer sent city council a memo that confirmed staff were made aware of a tree-cutting operation there on Feb. 17.
By that date, residents had already been commenting on aerial photos of the area on Facebook.
"Clearly there was a breakdown in communications in terms of notifying the community, the councillor and staff about this work," said Herweyer.
Herweyer told council that a stop-work order had been ordered on Feb. 22 so city staff could visit the land to investigate.
In his memo, Herweyer related what the Tewin partners had also told CBC News: that they were cleaning up extensive damage from May's storm and that they felt bylaws allowed land to be cleared for farming.
He said city staff would continue "to determine consistency with by-law exemptions" under rules for protecting trees and for altering sites.
The tree protection bylaw states that a permit is required on the Tewin lands for destroying any tree greater than 10 centimetres in diameter, except if it is destroyed through "normal farm practice" carried out by a farming business as defined in the Income Tax Act.
The site alteration bylaw, meanwhile, states land can't be altered near natural features except for "the clearing or stripping of trees and other vegetation by an agricultural operation in order to return lands to agricultural production".
"It is one of the exemptions in the bylaw, in terms of agriculture activities, so we're looking to learn more from the landowner as to their intentions in that regard," Herweyer told CBC News after a city council meeting on Wednesday.
Menard says farming isn't an "intention" he's seen formally mentioned at Tewin before and he's asked staff about the fines that might apply.
The Algonquins of Ontario purchased the parcel from the Ontario government in January 2020, along with a few dozen other properties.
A year later, they made a successful pitch to the former city council to be included in the urban boundary to build a sustainable new community rooted in Algonquin values.
City staff then defined a smaller area the AOO and partners Taggart Group could develop first.
- Algonquins of Ontario not the biggest landowner at Tewin
- Ottawa city council votes to keep Tewin lands inside urban boundary
"We've seen too many examples in the past where developers can get away with this cutting down trees and paying a minor fine, if at all, and then having their way with that land," said Menard. "That needs to stop in the city."
He has asked city staff for a briefing at the next meeting on March 21.
The tree protection bylaw includes special, unlimited fines that can exceed $100,000. At the time the bylaw was drafted, staff said that was meant to "eliminate or reduce any economic advantage or gain from contravening the by-law."
Asked for his response to the cutting of trees north of Piperville Road, Mayor Mark Sutcliffe said he only heard about it after a long council budget meeting. Generally speaking, Sutcliffe said the city's bylaws need to be enforced.