Vernon developer requests heron rookery protections be scrapped - InfoNews

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Vernon developer requests heron rookery protections be scrapped

Great blue herons.
May 13, 2020 - 1:30 PM

A North Okanagan contractor planning to develop a site adjacent to the Vernon heronry has had an application to waive certain environmental conditions rejected by Vernon council.

Vernon council voted unanimously, May 11, to keep an environmental covenant that was put in place last year as a condition of the developer's rezoning application. The covenant mandates construction can not take place in the spring or summer as well as other stipulations.

The developer, Scotland Constructors, had written to Vernon council requesting the environment restriction be dropped as they had commissioned a new environmental survey.

"We are requesting this based on a recent land survey certificate that shows our property is outside of the 100-meter buffer zone that was recommended," Scotland Constructors co-owner Melissa Wetteland told iNFOnews.ca.

The developer's report showed the property to be 114.5 metres outside the buffer zone.

The developer argued the extra distance meant the covenant should not apply.

Vernon councillor Brian Quiring questioned how the city could pick and choose which environment reports to follow.

While the covenant stipulated a 100-metre buffer, somewhat confusingly, City staff told council there was no hard line where the heron rookery was, and the line was subjective.

"I'm 114.5 metres away from the birds, there have been 50 other buildings within 30 metres with no issues," Wetteland said. "I respect the birds... do I think that these birds are in jeopardy by potentially building on that site? Absolutely not, look at what is around them, look at what they deal with day in and day out, why would we be any different?"

The Vernon heronry is a well-known spot in the city and hosts the nests of dozens of great blue herons, which are registered federally as a species at risk and have been flocking to the site for the last 34 years.

Rita Bos, who owns the 24 Street property where the herons nest, lost a battle against the rezoning of the adjacent site to allow for a development of up to 41 units, in the summer of 2019. However, Vernon council requires the developer to obey the environmental covenant as a condition of passing the rezoning.

Vernon Heronry Protection Society member Jane Weixl told iNFOnews.ca the covenant was critical as it holds developers accountable while they are working beside or near environmentally sensitive sites.

City of Vernon chief administrative officer Will Pearce told council if they rejected the covenant it would only be fair to hold another public hearing.

“The council really wants to protect the rookery,” Mayor Victor Cumming said. "The question is shall we have another public hearing?"

"The rookery needs to be front and centre but I don’t want to jeopardize the developer by holding a further public hearing, which can further delay their project," Councillor Kari Gares said.

Ultimately, council agreed not to accept the developer's request to have the covenant scrapped.

City staff said Scotland Constructors has not as yet applied to the city for a building permit and it is not known what they plan to build on the site.


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