Peter Lynch stands on his front lawn and motions toward an expanse of mature oak and spruce trees towering overhead in the deep woodland beside his home.
“I nearly fainted when I heard about the proposed development,” he says.
Eighteen years ago, he bought his property on Tudor Close West next to the 1.3-hectare (3.3-acre) strip where local contractor Paul Wicks now wants to build six homes.
Lynch and his neighbours appreciate the privacy the wooded area provides and say they will fight to preserve it.
It shouldn’t be difficult, they say. After all, city council approved a new Official Plan two years ago that designated the woodland a protected natural area.
“All we’re saying, in a nutshell, is follow the rules,” says Lynch, a retired environmental manager.
The woodland is home to a large number of black oak, which are found only in southern Ontario. There’s also an array of wildlife, including the chimney swift, a small bird on the threatened species list.
The woodland is also recognized as an important stopover on the Lake Huron flyway, used by migrating birds each spring and fall.
Wicks has applied for an Official Plan amendment that would allow encroachment on the woodland, with two new homes fronting Lakeshore Road and four more near Lake Huron accessed by an extension of Tudor Close.
The property was long owned by the Kinnear family and the only building on it is a 125-year-old cottage overlooking Lake Huron.
If the development proceeds, one of the six proposed houses would be within a few feet of his front door, Lynch said.
Fraser Godfrey, a neighbour on Centennial Avenue, says the natural area behind his home played a big part in his decision to move there 21 years ago.
It must be preserved as one of the last large natural woodlots left in the city, said Godfrey.
“There’s hardly any way you can justify development there.”
The two men have collected 80 signatures on a petition and submitted it to City Hall.
It may appear the development is doomed, given the Official Plan protection, but city staff say it’s not that simple.
Planning and building director Alan Shaw points out the lot between Tudor Close West and Tudor Close East is also zoned urban residential to accommodate single family homes.
He said the natural area designation and urban residential zoning may seem contradictory, but they should “work in tandem” and ensure any proposed development incorporates a discussion about maintaining trees, wildlife and green space.
“This is not a done deal,” Shaw said. “We are still at the fact-finding stage. We want to find a balance.”
He said planning staff will consider the impact on the neighbours, the potential loss of the woodland, but also the desire for development near the lake in a well-established neighbourhood.
Staff’s recommendation will also consider an environmental impact study, as well as input from the St. Clair Conservation Authority, said Shaw.
Lambton County is likely to weigh in too because it has a woodlot conservation bylaw that applies to properties larger than one hectare.
An amendment to the Official Plan is one of several planning approvals required for the development to go ahead.
Wicks could not be reached for comment. However, he held a public meeting and a tour of the site on Oct. 13. A second public meeting will be held at City Hall on Nov. 5, starting at 4 p.m.
Anyone who wants to speak must notify the city clerk by Oct. 31 at noon.
Council could opt to make a decision at that time or ask for more information. Details about Wicks’ application are available at www.planning.smartsarnia.com. Copies of related reports will be available at city hall by Nov. 2.