Saturday, April 01, 2006

Vecchiato's Voice - April 1, 2006 - Personal Property Rights? Township’s Doublespeak

During the election, the majority of candidates stated that they would support a tree by law. The question that was never asked was: What kind of by-law?

I had seen a lot of promise in some candidates, who professed environmentalism, who professed environmental integrity with a religious slant, and who distributed campaign fliers with the candidate cuddling infant wildlife. Yet all the rhetoric suffers a painful death the moment the ballots are counted.

I would name names, but you may be able to guess.

I heard the typical line about supporting personal property rights the same week I received a call from a distraught resident, actually a neighbour, whose own property and that of four others are in peril because one person exercised his personal property rights and cleared every tree from a forested 1/3 acre lot. With the threat of stump removal, the root system would cause neighboring trees to fail; it would collapse septic fields, around which lines the roots had become a part; even foundations are threatened.

What I read is that placating one man’s personal property rights puts neighboring properties in total jeopardy.

My next call was from a long time Willoughby resident, who sold his land under duress to the township. Should he had chosen not to sell, township would have expropriated the land. Any court date had the potential for a judge deciding the case, where the scales of justice could allow township to only pay assessment value for the property. As you stand on his family’s heritage site, you look down the hill at a sea of new rooftops with the only green being an adjacent stream that is planned for possible rerouting. The rooftops themselves are contentious at best. They replace a 216 tree forested parcel that was cleared without a single wildlife survey. The clearing, tragically, took place in the midst of breeding season—it was July 2004.

I had corresponded with the CEO of the development company earlier that year, and received a letter from him, stating that his company did, indeed, provide habitat. Habitat for mammals—the two-legged kind. The sarcasm dripped from the page without a single regret for the type of development he was condoning, money that would alter the face of our town while he could attend gala functions in the city and donate money to the arts and get a philanthropic reputation and a snapshot in the paper.

The majority of the previous council that continue to dominate the decision making process voted in favour of this development. None had ever taken the time to read the tree protection policy, which requested nesting bird surveys when clearing occurred during the March-August window. By the way, the new draft tree by-law, a part of the subdivision by-law, has since deleted any reference to surveys.

But back to personal property rights. I am wondering how an elected official can espouse private property rights, and then expropriate private property, to be used for a four-lane road with the remainder sold by township to developers. How can he be part of the forthcoming rezoning of Brookswood, where many of us don’t want to be rezoned? How can any of them sanction clear cutting on property that is being purchased by an absentee landlord and will be held on speculation until the zoning comes it? If you are selling in Brookswood, watch who you are selling to. What was once your beautiful home will look like the new Willoughby.
So please don’t give me the rhetoric about personal property rights when you represent an administration hell-bent on rezoning and using eminent domain to obtain your property. Don’t tell me about personal property rights when you refuse to enact legislation to protect neighboring properties. Volumes of fill can be placed on a parcel, leaving yours at a lower grade level and doomed to flooding. All the trees can be removed, leaving yours at risk for wind throw and root extraction that will topple landscape and infrastructure of your own private property. Don’t show me pictures of a cute mammal that you cradle in your arms and then vote for every new development proposal, where the same small mammals are crushed under bulldozers.
May citizens realize their taxes on going up annually to subsidize poor development practices, archaic storm water management systems that are financially alleviated by the ever-increasing storm water tax.

And don’t bitch about what seems to be negative complaints by people like me. Would you prefer a “living sort of oblivion," commonly known as apathy?

Cathleen Vecchiato has been an outspoken environmentalist for the past 5-1/2 years. She is a very well recognized champion of the environment and a community activist in Langley as well as in other adjoining communities. Cathleen formed and leads the Langley Conservation Network. Editor-LFP

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