When I agreed to be interviewed for the Citizen, following an article I wrote in Sandy Hill’s community newspaper IMAGE, I hesitated. Would this be another bad news story perpetuating the myth that Ottawa’s Sandy Hill is just one large student dorm?
I shared our story because I want City officials and our political representatives at all levels to know that a historic neighbourhood in the Nation’s Capital is under threat. And I firmly believe that if there was a strong enough will, there are many tools that could be employed to ensure the neighbourhood develops in a balanced way to benefit everyone—students, home owners, renters, and tourists.
One piece missing from this article is that students themselves are being taken advantage of, and the University of Ottawa has downloaded its responsibilities onto the community, leaving both home owners and students at the mercy of foreign investors who, unlike Mr. Szpilfogel, care only about profit.
The battle is very real indeed, but Sandy Hill remains a great neighbourhood— my block has more children on it now than when we moved in 13 years ago. And these families enjoy the vibrancy of a downtown neighbourhood, with its quality schools and daycares, strong Francophone presence and unparalleled community spirit. That is what is keeping us here, still fighting.
Tree owner is proud— and worried
An enormous beautiful silver maple grows on our property. It takes three people of my size to join hands around its trunk, and its canopy is by far the most prominent on our block. We used to lament that no vegetables can be grown in our backyard because of the shade, but recently, our attitude has changed: we are extremely proud to be the guardians of this magnificent grandfather of a tree.
Proud and worried. A couple of years ago, the neighbouring property was sold to a developer in disguise. Since then, another beautiful old maple – one in which our eyes found comfort and joy every time we looked out our kitchen window – has fallen victim to the developer’s plans to replace a luscious green backyard with a boxy infill house much too large for the lot. I fail to understand the logic behind destroying – property after property – precisely what makes Sandy Hill so unique: modest-size single-family houses with relatively large gardens so close to downtown.
Now “our” tree is threatened as well. The proposed construction will pave over about 20% of the critical root zone in addition to the 50% already covered by the paved back alley, and most likely reach so high into the canopy as to require the removal of a main tree stem. If this damage does not in itself result in the death of the tree, the remaining shape will likely be so out of balance as to be deemed dangerous. While the City of Ottawa’s Urban Forest Management Plan has clear guidelines on how to avoid damage to distinctive trees during construction, none of these constitute “applicable law,” and the Planning Committee does not take them into consideration when approving the application for development. In other words, developers seem to be free to do as they please.
“So what can we do to protect ‘our’ tree from the planned construction,” I asked the spokesperson for the Urban Forest Management Plan. “Hire a lawyer,” was the answer. Well, I have never heard of a lawyer who can resurrect a dead tree. If you ever come across one, please do let me know.
In the meantime, God help all of us who have a distinctive tree under threat by imminent construction. Because the City of Ottawa will not.
125 Marlborough Ave.