The Stadium, The Trees and Terrible Timing

I was very disappointed when this postcard arrived in our mailbox earlier this week. The matter of the Notre Dame School football stadium has now been put to the Development Permit Board for a decision on June 10.

This is personally very disappointing,  because I’ll be in the UK for my long-planned trip and won’t be able to attend.

On a more general level it’s sad because it means, in spite of all of the research, articles, information and letters shared with the Mayor and Council, they have opted to look the other way and leave it in the hands of City staff.

This post is based on a letter I’ve just sent to each individual Councillor and the Mayor.

While the fate of our neighbourhood is a relatively small municipal matter, the character of a city is made up of these “small” issues and how they are dealt with. The principles that are being ignored in this situation are vital ones. Allowing them to slide says something disturbing about our city.

The permit process has been unfair from the start. Front line Permit staff were not correctly briefed on the content of the original permit (DE410128) and went on to treat the matter, in error, as a minor permit amendment for months. Although they were forced to admit the mistake in late March 2019, the process has still not been amended in any meaningful way. Now there is a rush to get it over the finish line by June 10, only weeks after it was “discovered” to be a new permit application at all.

Because of all this confusion, no independent studies have been done on safety, traffic, parking, noise and environmental problems posed by the stadium. A 2018 one-sided “Tree Risk Assessment” has been allowed to supersede an earlier, far more complete, Arborist report that said the trees on Kaslo could be saved by setting the field back by 5.5 metres.

While this may seem a minor matter,  is top of mind for many of the people living in our neighbourhood. 360 of us signed a petition to that effect, and many people wrote letters to the City of Vancouver on the topic. As Vancouver taxpayers, we stand to have our lives turned upside down by this project. Beneficiaries of the stadium are students, parents, staff, alumni of a private school, many of whom do not live in Vancouver, let alone close enough to the school to be affected.

We accept that our area is becoming denser as more people need housing. Housing people is a necessity and a  moral issue. A recreational facility for people who drive here and leave is not.

 This issue could well come back to haunt Council later. Notre Dame School insists that their stadium will be used very occasionally for school games, drawing negligible traffic. If you look at the cases of St. Patrick’s School in Toronto and Immaculata High School in Ottawa the potential problems are made crystal clear. In each example the sports fields there are rented extensively, causing traffic and noise problems sufficient to destroy local quality of life. Legal action is pending in Toronto, and City officials in both cities are left scrambling to retroactively solve the problem. 

Once a permit is issued, there will, as far as we can tell, be nothing preventing Notre Dame School from emulating the revenue-gathering practices of these Ontario schools, in spite of current  assurances to the contrary. 

Vancouver Council has a chance to get in front of this issue now and take a greater interest in what it really means for our neighbourhood — and for other Vancouver neighbourhoods where similar issues will no doubt be arising soon.

This council was recently elected on the promise to do business differently than the previous Vision Council, with more listening to, and consulting with, citizens.

I have asked them look at this matter again. Live up to the promise: halt the rubber stamping Development Permit Board meeting, and subject this project to proper scrutiny.

Aside from the issues explored in my letter, which I tried to keep as brief and simple possible, there is the equally important point that the proposed stadium flies in the face of almost every aspect of Vancouver’s much vaunted Greenest City Action Plan.

I’ve already written at length about that in an earlier post, way back in January – Greenest City 2020?

WHAT TO DO NEXT?

If you have any thoughts/frustrations on this process, please send them to Mayor and Council. There is a handy list of all their contact addresses on the Notre Dame Neighbours website.

If, by chance, you are free on Monday,  June 10 at 3pm and would like to speak on this matter for up to 5 minutes, you can register with the Development Permit Board Assistant Kathy Cermeno. You can call her at 604-873-7770 or contact her by email at kathy.cermeno@vancouver.ca

Even if you don’t feel comfortable to speak, you could just attend the meeting and support those who do make presentations.

I am bitterly disappointed I can’t be there. I’ll be celebrating my 65th birthday with with good friends in Wales that very day, but will be there in thought.

Written submissions are also accepted. Please email Kathy Cermeno or (kathy.cermeno@vancouver.ca)  or send a letter to her attention at City Hall​, ​453 West 12th Ave​.​Vancouver, BC​ ​V5Y 1V4.

You can find our more about the Vancouver Development Permit Board at vancouver.ca/dpboard

Clinging to Hope

Sorry this has been such a relatively boring post with few birds. I promise fun things from the UK will be coming soon!

Meanwhile, I leave you with some birds who are angry about all of this …

Huge Thanks!

Believe me, Marvin, we’d all like to know …

Marvin (Mavis is otherwise occupied with nest sitting) and I want to say a huge thank-you to everyone responded to my request last week and wrote letters to Vancouver’s Planning Department and Council. You wrote about the Notre Dame poplars in particular, and the importance of urban nature in general.

Vancouver City staff and council heard from all over North America and from Europe. As Vancouver has an international image as a “green” city, I believe that international comments are fully valid. They also heard from many, many people from Vancouver. They received letters from those who have a personal fondness for this area, and from others who have never seen the site in person, but who are concerned about how inappropriate and environmentally reckless developments seem increasingly able to slip through cracks in the permit and public consultation process.

Many people copied me on the letters they wrote and, wow, what an articulate bunch you are! Heartfelt, lucid and logical – they made for compelling reading and I hope they are being read and pondered as we speak over at City Hall.

On April 18 we also hand-delivered a paper petition gathered from our immediate neighbourhood with 360 signatures to the City Clerk’s Office.

So, what’s next? Well, the fight continues. The City Planning department gave April 19 as the deadline for comments, but we will keep on campaigning regardless.

Our first choice would be that the school give up on the sunken, artificial turf stadium plan and go back to the site-appropriate grass practice field that they already have a permit for, and which they agreed upon with neighbours back in 2006.

Failing that, we feel that the new development must go through a proper development permit, including appropriate studies, advisory panels, real community engagement, and review by Mayor and Council before any permits are issued.

Thanks again for your great response, all the letters and the moral support. Much appreciated by me and the local wildlife!

Help The Poplars

Mavis the Crow Portrait

Mavis and I could really use your help to put in a good word for the Notre Dame poplar trees on Kaslo Street!

Read on for how you can help. Oh, and it has to by tomorrow (April 18) – no pressure. 😉

If you have followed my blog, even for the shortest time, you will know these trees. They’re the setting for many of the bird adventures I photograph and write about. They played a starring role in last week’s Game of Nests, for example.

Marvin and Mavis are in them at this very moment, guarding their new nest.

Marvin and Mavis Guard Nest Apr 17

But there is a strong likelihood that, by next spring’s nesting season, they’ll be gone.

The school on who’s property the poplars stand wants to install a sunken, artificial turf football stadium that, in its current form, would mean the demise of the trees. You may have read my earlier posts about this (see links at end of this post.)

Mavis on Nest April 17

Instead of an unbiased arborist report the school has presented a “Tree Risk Assessment” to the City in support of their plan. This report states the obvious: if a sunken field, 3 metres deep at the foot of the poplars is installed, the roots will be damaged to such an extent they will be at “high risk” of falling. In 2007, a more balanced arborist report found ways in which the trees could be spared by making the field just a little smaller.

To voice your support for giving these lovely trees a FAIR assessment before they’re removed in favour of a synturf stadium, please contact the City of Vancouver Project Facilitator, Andrew Wroblewski and let him know you’d like to see the City find a way to save the trees.
It would be helpful to copy your remarks to Vancouver’s Mayor and Council. You can send them a group email HERE.
If you have already done this because of my requests on social media earlier this week: THANK YOU SO MUCH.

We are running out of time to make a difference. The City Planning Department has set April 19 as the deadline to receive comments on the Notre Dame project. As April 19 is Good Friday, we really only have until THURSDAY, April 18.

Marvin Watching Over Nest Apr 17

Hundreds of local residents have signed a paper petition that we will hand in at City Hall tomorrow. But, even if you don’t live locally, you can speak out on behalf of these beautiful trees.

All we ask is that they be given a fair and unbiased assessment instead of the report based only on what will happen if the roots are fatally compromised.

These trees are an important local landmark. They also provide habitat for many kinds of birds, bugs and animals and are the only green space for miles around in an urban area sorely lacking in natural beauty.

poplar seasons

The City has already admitted that errors have been made in this development process.
Let’s not have the trees removed and then find out that was another one. One that cannot be reversed.
For more background and to keep up with latest news, check our web site: Notre Dame Neighbours or follow on Facebook or Twitter.
Earlier posts on this topic:

Help Save the Poplars

Greenest City 2020?

If you’re a regular reader, you may be expecting a whimsical crow story , or perhaps some tongue-in-cheek home décor or fashion advice. This is not that, but don’t worry — normal programming will (as they say) resume shortly. Today I’m writing about something not so funny, but very important to an Urban Nature Enthusiast. 

We have a very local problem (as you may have read about in some earlier blog posts) in which a private school in our area plans to remove trees and construct an artificial turf sports facility. The more I look into it and talk to other Vancouver residents, I realize that this hyper-local problem, is symptomatic of larger problems facing urban nature throughout Vancouver.

I wrote first the post below for the  Notre Dame Neighbours blog — but I believe it’s worth sharing here too. 

Greenest City graphic on artificial turf

The City of Vancouver has a long held (and widely publicized) aim of being the greenest city in the entire world by 2020. That’s next year folks!

Hundreds of thousands of words have been written on the strategies and initiatives for reaching this goal. See Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Plan.

greenest city logo

It all so good in theory, and yet, when I look at the proposed changes to our own neighbourhood, I find it very hard to put the two things together.

The proposed change of plan at Notre Dame School, to go from:

(a) grass practice field with trees retained, to

(b) sunken artificial turf games facility with trees removed,

… seems to be going in entirely the wrong direction.

Notre Dame is a private school, but it should be noted that the City’s green plan repeatedly calls for cooperation between “developers, planners, designers and public and private landowners.”

TREE REMOVAL

The proposed removal of the row of Lombardy Poplars on the school’s western border contradicts a large number of the the green initiatives that shelter under the Greenest City Action Plan umbrella.

To begin with, the maintenance of trees is part of the City’s Urban Forest Strategy

“Vancouver’s urban forest includes every tree in our city – on streets, in parks, public spaces, and back yards. Our urban forest plays important environmental and social roles: it cleans the air, absorbs rainwater, provides bird habitat, and improves our health and well-being.“

If every tree in Vancouver is part of the Urban Forest strategy, it follows that every effort should be made to retain the 23 mature, full-of-bird-and-bug-life, poplars on Kaslo Street.

I was told by an old-timer in the neighbourhood, who lived opposite the school site, that when the poplars were planted those particular trees were selected because of their prodigious ability to soak up water from the ground. This was important because Notre Dame was, and is, built over Hastings Creek and is also positioned at a low, water-collecting point of the neighbourhood. In the past it was a marsh. It is unknown what effect the removal of the poplars will have on the wetness of the school site, not to mention the surrounding area.

City trees are also a critical part of the City’s Access to Nature Goals

One specific goal within this strategy is:

Ensure that every person lives within a 5 minute walk of a park, greenway, or other green space by 2020; restore or enhance 25ha of natural areas between 2010 and 2020.

As you can see from the aerial view below, the area around Notre Dame School (the red dot in the middle) is already very poorly served by green space.

 The walk to the nearest park is far longer than five minutes. Many people head to the tiny bit of “greenway” provided by the Notre Dame poplars to walk their dogs, or simply to stroll within the sound of birdsong and the whispering of wind in the leaves. Removal of this tiny strip of green is a big step in the wrong direction for a city aiming to provide its citizens with more green space, and the physical, mental and spiritual well-being it is known to promote.

A sub-set of the Access to Nature Strategy is the Vancouver Bird Strategy in which the City strives to make Vancouver a rich and welcoming year-round habitat for all kinds of native birds. A healthy and diverse population of birds is intended to add to the enjoyment and enrichment of Vancouver residents, and also attract visitors from around the world.

The Kaslo Street poplars provide an important habitat for local birds. Watching the trees  for any length of time will reveal a parade of chickadees, juncos, bush tits, northern flickers, crows and robins, and even hawks, ravens and bald eagles making occasional visits. Many birds nest in these trees in the spring time, making use of the security from ground-predators provided by their elevation. In spring, 2018, some migrating mountain bluebirds (rare in this region) used the school as a resting area for a few days on their trip to their summer habitat in northern BC.

A Mountain Bluebird resting at Notre Dame, April 2018.

Vancouver achieved its goal of attracting visitors from around the world last summer when the prestigious meeting of bird scientists (IOC2018) was held here. I met some of those scientists, and we discussed the small things that can make cities bird friendlier. We agreed that areas like the small stand of poplars in my neighbourhood are great examples of small spaces making a big difference within the urban environment. Ironically, this was just couple of weeks before we learned that those very trees were threatened.

Raven in the poplars

Note: The City required that the school have arborist’s inspection done of these poplars. We have to assume that resulting report said that the trees should be removed but, as far as we know, this is only because of the school’s plan to create a ten foot drop-off right at their base of the trees (to accommodate the sunken field) which will render them unstable. We would like to see a second arborist’s report undertaken on the viability of the trees without such drastic excavation.

Instructions on the Notre Dame Field permit issued by the City of Vancouver in 2008. The new plans, part of the “minor amendment,” no longer include this important detail.

Should the project go ahead and the poplars be removed, the city requires that the school replace them with other trees. I am curious to know what trees of any size could thrive on top of a ten foot retaining wall.

ARTIFICIAL TURF

The other way in which the Notre Dame proposal seems to be marching away from green city goals is by coating the entire remaining surface of the campus with a combination of artificial turf and parking lot.

Artificial turf can be played on for up to 80 hours a week and does not (normally) need watering. These two advantages seem to have caused a stampede by the Vancouver Park Board (as well as private institutions like Notre Dame School) to install this surface on as many fields as possible to increase playing time.

But there are some very serious disadvantages to artificial turf that really need to considered more closely, including possible adverse heath effects for those using the fields, as well as a variety of environmental problems.

As far as climate change is concerned, it seems a very bad idea — not only for the users of the field but for whole neighbourhoods around the fields.

From Health Impact Assessment of the Use of Artificial Turf in Toronto written in 2015,

Unlike natural grass which has evaporative cooling properties, artificial turf is made of several heat-retaining materials which can significantly increase field surface temperatures, substantially increase air temperatures near fields, and thus contribute to the urban heat island effect in surrounding neighbourhoods. This increases the risk of heat-related health impacts during hot weather events. Widespread use of artificial turf would also make Toronto less resilient to extreme weather events and increase adverse health impacts associated with these events.”

It also seems like a bad idea in terms of meeting the City’s rainwater management plan objectives. The aim is to maximize the amount of permeable surfaces on public and private property in order to cope with increased climate changed-caused rainfall.

Artificial turf is known to be far less permeable than natural grass, and Notre Dame plans to install such a surface in a sunken field, on natural marshland, and over the watercourse of Hastings Creek …  I’m not an engineer, of course, but this seems like a high drainage risk.

Artificial Turf Mountain

Part of the Greenest City Action Plan is Zero Waste 2040 and I can’t help but wonder where a mountain of worn out artificial turf fits into that.

Artificial turf does not last forever. Its lifespan depends on various factors, from the amount of use, to the quality of the product. But all of it is sure to wear out sooner or later, and then what? Off to the landfill it goes. This Dutch video follows an expired fake grass field to its final resting place at the Artificial Turf Mountain.

Does Vancouver want an Artificial Turf Mountain of its very own by 2040?

A SOLUTION?

Ideals, politics, and competing interests can make uneasy bedfellows. Creativity and ingenuity is required to work in such a scenario.

So here’s a modest proposal.

What if the school were to look at ways in which a grass field could work to meet its sports and exercise needs, and the trees could be saved?

In return for the school being such a good citizen, working with the City to reach its 2020 green goals, the City Park Board could take over maintenance of the Kaslo Poplars, pruning and tending to the trees, and perhaps planting native species grasses and shrubs on the City side of the trees. That way the school would soon have its exercise space, which would please students and parents who have waited so long for a field. They would have a sports area, plus an outdoor classroom area for Environmental Studies classes, providing amenities geared to students with a wide range of interests. The mountain bluebirds might even come back!

The school would gain positive public recognition for making such a wonderful contribution to the City’s green action plan, and the City would gain a small strip of green space to inch them a little towards their 2020 goal of everyone within five minute walk away from a bit of nature in the city.

Or shall we just chop the trees down, carpet everywhere with artificial turf, and call the city green, even if it’s just the uniform emerald of an endless sea of this?

Let’s go with the first idea!

It really doesn’t take a lot of green space to create foothold for nature and birds in the city, to the benefit of all city dwellers — so let’s try and work together to save this tiny oasis before it’s gone.

Greenest City graphic on artificial turf

If you’d like to contact the City of Vancouver to express your opinion on either the specific Notre Dame School issue, or on the expanding use of artificial turf on Vancouver park space, here are few handy addresses: 

VANCOUVER CITY COUNCIL

Adrienne Carr  adrienne.carr@vancouver.ca

Peter Fry  pete.fry@vancouver.ca

Melissa DeGenova  melissa.degenova@vancouver.ca

Lisa Dominato  lisa.dominato@vancouver.ca

Jean Swanson  jean.swanson@vancouver.ca

Colleen Hardwick  colleen.hardwick@vancouver.ca

Michael Wiebe  michael.wiebe@vancouver.ca

Christine Boyle  christine.boyle@vancouver.ca

Rebecca Bligh  rebecca.bligh@vancouver.ca

Sarah Kirby-Yung  sarah.kirby-yung@vancouver.ca

General message to Mayor and Council at this link.

Or call 311 and leave a comment.

VANCOUVER PARK BOARD

Stuart McKinnon  stuart.mckinnon@vancouver.ca

John Irwin  john.irwin@vancouver.ca

Gwen Giesbrecht  gwen.giesbrecht@vancouver.ca

Camil Dumont  camil.dumont@vancouver.ca

Dave Demers  dave.demers@vancouver.ca

John Coupar john.coupar@vancouver.ca

Tricia Barker tricia.barker@vancouver.ca

Or call 311 and leave a comment.

VANCOUVER CITY STAFF

Gil Kelley
(General manager of Planning, Urban Design, and Sustainability)

gil.kelley@vancouver.ca

604-873-7456

All calls and emails have to be logged, so each one counts!