Carrie Nadeau grew up in Vernon enjoying the Great Blue Heron rookery on the north end of 20th Street.
A qualified environmental professional with 15 years experience, working with Associated Environmental Consultants, Nadeau calmly faced a standing room only crowd of opponents to a proposed rezoning application near the beloved rookery at a public hearing Monday in Vernon council chambers. She explained her position as to why an application to rezone property in the 5000 block of 2oth Street to allow a multi-unit housing development wouldn’t be bad for the birds.
“The setbacks proposed here are in line with provincial regulations. At this point, as far as I know, there is no proposal for the exact development,” said Nadeau. “There is an opportunity later for when the development is actually proposed to provide construction measures that ensure mitigation measures are followed. That includes being flexible.
“Blue herons are a native blue-listed species. They don’t follow dates and timelines and guidelines, obviously, and part of my mitigation letter is to ensure herons are not nesting at time of extended noise periods. The goal is to have all of construction completed when the herons are not there. With a proper construction environmental management plan, we can really mitigate for any impacts on the herons. I appreciate everyone’s concern about this.”
Applicants Scotland Constructors Ltd. hopes to rezone the property to build a multi-level housing unit, and their application received support for two readings in June, requiring Monday’s public hearing.
Melissa Wetteland and Brennan Scott are the owners of Scotland Constructors, and they listened to about a half-dozen speakers in opposition before approaching the microphone.
“We appreciate everyone’s concerns and comments. We feel we’ve done our due diligence by commissioning an environmental impact analysis,” said Wetteland. “Our property is outside the heronry buffer area and the mitigation letter (written by Nadeau) takes into consideration a herons’ nesting period and we fully plan to follow the recommendations made.
“The rookery is located 100 metres northwest of our property. With the 60 metre setback in urban areas – and we think this is urban area – we’d be well within that. We want to re-emphasize, that the heron colony seems to have adapted to the surrounding of environment, and seem to be existing very well with adjacent commercial, industrial and residential uses.”
The public hearing included speakers such as Rita Bos, senior director of the Vernon Heronry Protection Society.
“People have come from around the world to see the rookery and really consider us very blessed to have the heronry in our neighbourhood,” said Bos. “We strongly urge you (council) to prevent any development whatsoever beside this very sensitive area…Nature’s clock keeps ticking as species after species is lost.”
Mission Hill resident Jane Weixl said humans are the herons’ greatest threat, and that the currently rookery is located in an ideal spot.
“This rookery is perfectly located where it sits now because the birds are able to access Swan Lake for feeding on fishes and frogs,” said Weixl. “This colony is thriving due to its proximity to Swan Lake.”
At the back of council chambers, in a big binder, was 149 letters sent to council on the application, with 148 of them in opposition, though Coun. Kari Gares said a lot of letters were written based on misinformation.
“From the many e-mails we received, along with the social media posts we’ve seen, it has become clear that many believe that it was the rookery itself that we were developing,” said Gares. “This type of misinformation is another such reason I voted in favour of the development; but this doesn’t mean their concerns have no merit. I truly believe we can manage the risks to protect nature while providing affordable housing to Vernon’s market that is already suffering from a lack of housing.”
Gares said the city has a responsibility to hold in preserving and protecting the herons and their habitat.
“The Bos family has been steadfast in their convictions to protect the herons over these many decades by ensuring future development of this site would be prevented through the establishment of a restrictive covenant,” said Gares. “But after careful deliberation, ample research, a site view and environmental report from the QEP (Qualified Environmental Professional), I believe we can mitigate the dangers of noise and environmental pollution on their nesting grounds while encouraging affordable future multi-family development – something that Vernon is in desperate need of.”
Council voted unanimously in favour of passing third reading of the application.
“I voted in favour of it because the project conforms to provincial guidelines,” said Coun. Brian Quiring, who motioned for passing third reading. “There was a qualified environmental professional involved, they drafted a report and were of the opinion it’s a good project.”
Fourth reading and adoption of the application would happen at a future meeting of council.