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 …

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

Urban Nature Is Fragile

I am filled with sadness every time I look out of my window lately.

We have lived here for 27 years and my favourite view has always been of the row of Lombardy poplars fringing the private school at the end of our block. In the fall it is golden, in the winter and early spring it’s a shadow puppet show of bird life. From ravens to tiny bushtits — the branches are full of bird activity all year round.

When the wind blows, the trees make a sound like rushing river.

Urban nature can be tough and tenacious. Dandelions forcing their way to the light through tarmac. Moss or rust overwhelming almost any surface, given time.

But urban nature is so very fragile in the face of human decision-making.

The school has not had a sports field for over ten years, since they redeveloped the site. We’ve been expecting a field to go in at any time over those years, and local residents are looking forward to the project being finished and seeing the students with somewhere to play and exercise.

But now we are realizing that they are not just going to build a field — they have plans for a sports stadium — complete with artificial turf and (most likely) the removal of the beloved poplars.

The neighbours are upset for many reasons — mostly the noise, traffic and parking headaches that the stadium will bring.

I’m anxious about those things too — but what makes me truly heartsick is the idea of converting  that little bit of urban nature into an environmental desert.

If the trees do come down, the City of Vancouver will require that some new trees are planted to replace them — but they won’t be anywhere near the stature of the existing stand of poplars.

The entire rest of the school campus will be covered with building, parking lot, and plastic grass.

It was on this campus that I spotted migrating mountain bluebirds this spring, and where I had my wonderful conversations with a raven.

The white crowned sparrows and finches like to bathe in puddles and feed on seeds from grass growing in currently fallow areas. 

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Northern flickers, I’ve noticed, love to watch the sun rise from the tops of the poplars.

I watched the whole unfolding drama of two crow families building and tending nests in those same trees from March to July.

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Nature in the city is a delicate balance.

It’s not as if they’re really taking paradise and putting up a parking lot.

You couldn’t really call it paradise — a big, rutted parking area with weeds around the edges and a big patch of free-growing grass left from when an old wing of the school was torn down years ago.

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But it has actually been paradise to those birds. They don’t really ask for much.

And, in terms of putting up a parking lot — there will be a new parking lot — but that parking lot will probably be marginally more environmentally friendly than the artificial turf football field  — an ocean of sterile plastic grass that will fill almost every square remaining inch of the campus.

So, yes — every time I look out of my window now, I’m sad as I wonder how many more times I’ll see the sun and moon rise behind those branches, and I ask myself where the birds will be nesting next spring?

 

See part two of this blog, coming soon, for a less heartbroken, and more pragmatic, view of this issue.

For more information on community response to the proposed Notre Dame Stadium, see the Notre Dame Neighbours website.