Reservoir Hill: An uphill battle and a slippery slope.

Did you know: During the War of 1812, a battle was fought in London, Ontario.

It took place at Hungerford Hill (now known as Reservoir Hill), that sits where Springbank Drive and Commissioners Road meet. It is a nicely treed, hilly patch of land that overlooks Springbank Park. Details are few, but the history I have been able to find tells stories of marauding bands who plundered and pillaged through the area during the War of 1812, and an ambush on American raiders by the Middlesex Militia in 1814.

Nearly 200 years later, a battle is being fought at Reservoir Hill once again. This battle isn’t a mere skirmish, however, and might be seen as yet another marauding band, pillaging the Hill. That marauding band is our City Council. By ignoring recommendations of City Planning staff, the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) and the results of Public Participation Meetings held with respect to the land development, London City Council is virtually setting up to attack the area around the Hill.

The current battle began in 1999 when the original application was made by Ayerswood Development asking the City of amend the official plan and zoning by-law from an “Open Space”designation to “High Density Residential.” Five months later, in March of 2000, Council unanimously rejected the application. This led to an appeal over the next year; the development of the Reservoir Hill Group comprised of neighbours and community members to speak to the appeal; and an Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) hearing.

In February of 2001, the decision was received from the OMB which allowed the Developer’s appeal in part. Changes were required to be made in order for the Board to approve the site plan entirely. A very succinct summary of the events that followed up to June of 2011 can be found in blogs written by Gina Barber: London Civic Watch: The battle over Reservoir Hill and Discount days at planning.

Since June of 2011,  there have been more appeals, meetings, recommendations and refusals to comply with the OMB. The site plan still to this day does not conform to the recommendations of the OMB, and there are several engineering concerns surrounding the development, including the safety to hold a building of the proposed size on the site, grading and the potential for erosion. No decision has been made on this battle, that has waged since 1999, but that may change in the next week or so as this matter will once again appear before our Council.

In just nine short months, members of the Council have dramatically changed the approach they have previously taken with respect to this site plan application, and has given itself the authority to approve the application without the support of City Staff, and against previous OMB recommendations. This current Council is looking now at approving the same application it had previously rejected in June of 2009. Why, and how can they do that? These are questions many in the community have.

This is clearly another example of what Councillor Nancy Branscombe has recently referred to as “policy on the fly”. A segment of the Council appears to be giving themselves powers to do whatever they want to do, when it suits them – and they want to do it quickly. Is this wise? Of course not. The allure of the development is that it will create jobs, and that’s what the Mayor desperately wants (read: needs) for this city now. But jobs at what cost? Ignoring the recommendations of staff, the OMB and the citizens who took place in Public Participation Meetings is not only irresponsible, but it could prove to be dangerous.  Should an unforeseen incident occur due to the issues previously listed, the cost will be far greater than any benefit the City would receive from making such a rash decision, especially one that is difficult to undo. It would also set a precedent in the future that would take us down yet another slippery slope.

It should be noted who the Councillors supporting the development are.  With the exception of one, there were no surprises for me in the list of names. They are the usual suspects: Mayor Fontana, Bud Polhill, Joe Swan, Stephen Orser, Dale Henderson, Paul Van Meerbergen, Denise Brown, Sandy White and the surprise (for me) Matt Brown.

This is where you need to get involved. I would encourage you to write to your Councillors to express your concerns with this pushing through of development and ignoring of recommendations by Staff and the OMB. Construction jobs sound appealing to a city that is hurting, but not jobs that could come with a great cost attached to them. And not only at a cost for the residents of the area, but for the rest of us as well. When this development is complete, a patch of land that is pleasing to the eye and segues to our beautiful Springbank Park will be forever changed, and perhaps not for the better. Too high of a density could ruin the landscape and cause catastrophe if the right measures aren’t taken to ensure safety in engineering.

Second, if you have the opportunity, attend the public delegation to voice your concerns over the development of the area, and the hasty policies Council is making in these situations. This is not the first, and if we let this kind of practice continue, it will become the norm.

Finally, the community who has rallied around Reservoir Hill has a petition available to sign, (a copy of which I have and will gladly send to anyone who requests one.  The more signatures, the better.)  The residents of the area could really use the support of the greater public before this goes before the Planning Committee once more. (Which could occur as early as Monday, March 26th, so please act fast.)  **Note:  I have been informed the Reservoir Hill site plan will be heard on April 24th, 2012. You have plenty of time to voice your concerns to council. Please, use this opportunity to get involved.

If we let this kind of policy making become the norm in the City of London, erosion of the Hill may not be our only concern, but the continued erosion of public participation and engagement, which would come at just as much of a cost. There is a process to these kinds of decisions for a reason, and we should all take responsibility for holding our Councillors to that process.