Heron-area rezoning passed

John K. White

Vernon city council approved a rezoning request to clear the way for the construction of low-rise housing on land adjacent to the blue heron nesting sanctuary on 20th Street after a public hearing Monday night.

Council chambers were jammed with supporters of the sanctuary and impassioned pleas were made by several attendees. 

Any builder would be working under a restrictive covenant and would need to provide detailed mitigation to protect the habitat, a fact that brought some level of appreciation for the supporters of the blue heron habitat.

Herons threatened: petition

The rezoning application was submitted by Scotland Constructors Ltd., who plan to build low-rise apartments on the land.

Rita Bos, a senior director for the Vernon Heronry Protection Society, has two concerns about development on the site: The first is the potential disruption of the construction itself, the second is the ongoing potential disruption from the people living in the new development and the added traffic and noise.

While the developer has agreed to the mitigation terms lined up by the Qualified Environmental Professional in her assessment of the site, there was debate over the appropriate buffer between the construction and the nesting grounds.

With the exception of a small slice of land in the northwest corner of the land in question, a full 100-metre buffer will be in place from the protected grounds. The provincial standard is 60 metres. But Bos said herons can be unpredictable, and they have been known to become agitated and work to move their nests when they feel threatened. She cited a study that recommended a 600-metre buffer.

Despite that, Bos is cautiously optimistic that the habitat will be respected and protected by the developers.

"It's almost like wait and see, but it might be too late by then, which is the sad thing," Bos said after the public hearing and vote.

"It's a very private situation for the birds when they're on the ground. They're vulnerable. They're totally vulnerable. When they're up in the trees they can look down. As soon as you get close, they see you move, they're out of there. Bye, bye."

The couple looking to building the housing units said they would be open to feedback on the plans, and Bos said she'd love to consult if they were interested.

"Oh, I would love to, but I don't know whether they'd consider me an expert," Bos said. "But I'd like to give them some input if they would come and ask me."

Bos hoped that the housing would cater to seniors, who she feels would be generally quieter and more mindful of their surroundings.

"It's not that little kids can't be respectful, but, sometimes their parents just turn them loose, they'll be running all over the field and the birds will be terrified," Bos said.

Mayor Victor Cumming said he was satisfied that council protected the habitat while supporting development.

"Lots of people are very concerned about the herons, and that matches the council, and the council has made a change to a property that's just about a hundred meters from the rookery, and the requirement is 60," Cumming said. "So I think we've done a good job of creating a significant buffer. No one wants to see anyone disturbing the herons."

People are absolutely passionate about this rookery, so I'm glad that people feel free to come to council, and be passionate about it, Cumming noted.

Cumming added that he was impressed by the developer attending the hearing and being open to the discussion.

"I think there's a real openness from them to make sure that the rookery stays. They see it as an asset to the value and use of their property," Cumming said.

The rezoning vote passed unanimously.

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