Province slams Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes report

The province is calling on Halifax to reject the latest proposal for a wilderness park in the city and instead meet commitments set out in 2006.

Global News obtained a copy of the letter sent by Nova Scotia environment minister Margaret Miller on June 30. It is addressed to Mayor Mike Savage and the clerk’s office.

ChangSha Night Net

In it, Miller says the June report on聽the聽Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes doesn’t represent what the municipality said would be created. In 2006, the city adopted a plan for a regional park adjacent to a provincial wilderness area which the province established in 2009.

READ MORE:聽Company involved in Birch Cove Lakes development made donations to sitting politicians

The June report “presents a different concept,” Miller wrote in the letter.

The 2006 plan was reaffirmed by council in 2014 and allows for the creation of a largely untouched back country, surrounded by a front country with active trail systems and access points to the back country.

Miller takes issue with the “substantial development” around the cluster of lakes that were originally supposed to make up the core of the regional park. She also raises a concern about the development proposed for areas of the park which were slated to become back county —; meaning that the area was supposed to remain untouched by parking lots and paved pathways, let alone new subdivisions.

READ MORE:聽Battle brewing over Blue Mountain park development plans

Council has not approved the June report, and will debate the issue next on Sept. 6. The report was expected to find a negotiated settlement between two of the land owners who want to develop the area and the municipality which wants to turn the area into a regional park. However, it instead largely sided with the developer’s plan to construct houses, townhouses and multi-unit buildings.

The land owned by developers is not zoned for construction, meaning even though the developers own the land they cannot build on it unless council approves an exemption.

Local MLA Diana Whalen is also weighing in, saying that if council approves the June report, only 25 per cent of the land proposed for the regional park would become parkland while the rest would be developed. In a letter sent the same day as Miller’s, Whalen said she is “disappointed” with the report.

The report is in “direct opposition to the commitments that were made when (the Halifax Regional Municipality) adopted a plan for a regional park,” Whalen said.

The dark brown area outlined on the map is Halifax’s proposed boundary for the Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes regional park. The yellow part is the core wilderness area. The striped area represents the wilderness area designated by the province in 2009. The map is based on Map 11 of the Halifax regional plan.

Neil Sangani / Global News

The above map shows what a proposed regional park would look like if council voted to allow construction on some areas which were originally supposed to be park land. The map is based on information in the June facilitator’s report.

Neil Sangani / Global News

White and yellow lines depict a draft proposal for the division between front country and back country in the Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes park. The map is based on a 2012 draft map from the Halifax Regional Municipality. It has never been approved by council.

Neil Sangani / Global News

Proposal could ‘threaten the integrity of the wilderness area’: Minister

In her letter, Miller says the report misses the point on the need for the wilderness area in addition to the regional park.

The wilderness area is considered a back country area. However, in order for it to remain a back country area, it needs a buffer zone to protect it from the dense urban and suburban area. The regional park is supposed to act as that protection and is called the front country, where there would be more high-impact recreation.

Miller says if council approves the June report it could “threaten the integrity of the wilderness area and create significant management issues for the province.”

She ends the letter calling on the city to “pursue the vision for the for the regional park, as outlined in (the) regional plan.”

The front country is a crucial element of the park’s concept, Dalhousie University professor Karen Beazley said after Tuesday’s council meeting. She works in the university’s聽School for Resource and Environmental Studies.

“If entire area is developed according to the plan that the developer put forward and that is in the facilitator’s report then essentially there will be聽no core area left in the provincial wilderness area.”

The Annapolis Group and the Stevens Group are the two companies involved in the dispute. Neither responded to requests for comment.