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Published on Monday, November 6, 2006

Residents fear oakless Oakville

By Richard Brennan, GTA Bureau Chief, Toronto Star

Oakville's Yvette Fox-DellaVedova and her husband Rodney DellaVedova have been busy building wooden shelters for squirrels so they will have a place to live when the surrounding forest is levelled.

"It is truly a tragedy that Oakville is becoming oakless," Fox-DellaVedova said. "It will be horrifying to witness clearcutters plough through our forest ..."

The revving of chainsaws has recently been heard in the west-end forest as the developer prepares to cut down all but a few of the trees to make way for Palermo Village, a housing development much larger than the wooded area featuring three-storey town homes.

It is another example, critics say, of council's decision to put development ahead of the environment even though the two-hectare chunk of land was designated as a woodlot under the official plan.

When the smoke has cleared, there will be less than .4 hectares left.

"We have constructed and hung (seven) squirrel boxes (in the) small preserved woodlot," said Fox-DellaVedova, whose home backs onto the forest.

Council was said to have been under pressure to make a decision given that the developer, Crystal Homes, which is based in Hamilton, had taken the whole matter to the Ontario Municipal Board.

Councillors Allan Elgar and Renee Sandelowsky were the only two councillors who opposed the removal. They called for a motion asking that a proposed road be moved further to the east so as to save most of the forest, but 10 council members, including Mayor Ann Mulvale, turned thumbs down.

"My concern is that three of the people running for mayor were on council and they all decided not to stick with the official plan," said Elgar, who's acclaimed as regional councillor Oakville, referring to Mulvale and councillors Chris Stoate and Janice Wright. "In my opinion, we have for too long been letting the developers get away with a lot. We should have been demanding a lot more from developers."

Fox-DellaVedova describes the Grand Oak Woods as a natural forest with several trees over 100 years old. "Many small mammals (raccoons, rabbits, skunks, squirrels), insects and birds now prepared for survival of the imminent harsh winter are soon to be homeless and desperate for protection."

Stoate said he regrets the decision. "It's the one time I remember being on council and walking into the legal department the next morning and saying, 'We were rushed on that. We should have taken time to (investigate) are there any other options here to this.' Certainly the advice we had was that we would not be successful on appeal (at the OMB)."

Sandelowsky said she didn't buy the argument then that council had no choice and doesn't buy it now.

"The official plan showed this woodlot, so I would think we would have had something to fight with," she said
, standing alongside Elgar near the wooded area. Wright, who is running for mayor, said it was a trade-off.

"The portion that were saving was more likely to survive, so it was more about the quality of the woodlot and the sustainability.... It was a matter of trying to balance out what was best for the community."

Mulvale said she did not recall much about the woodlot but guessed there was a legal opinion "to get the best outcome" at the OMB hearing.

"We were in a tough situation in terms of how the board was going on these kinds of things," she said.

Mulvale said after all a developer "has a right to achieve a certain yield," referring to land that can be developed.
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