MARCH RURAL COMMUNITY ASSOCIATION
The March Rural Community Association was founded in 1969 to represent the interests of residents and property owners in the rural area of the then Township of March, subsequently the City of Kanata, now part of the City of Ottawa, Ward 5. We meet monthly and a major part of our agenda deals with proposals from the City respecting development applications. The MRCA also operates the local skating rink, regularly participates in City and community committees, and has worked with other Kanata Community Associations to run all – candidates meetings. We are a member of the Federation of Community Associations. The MRCA sends out regular information bulletins to interested members by e-mail, covering community news, police reports and local events. You can join this list by contacting MRCAPresident@gmail.com.
The population of the March Rural community in 2010 was 3,600 occupying 1220 households, which represents a 50% growth since 1996. Recent growth has taken place primarily in rural subdivisions, with severances from large landholdings also taking place. There are residences present throughout the rural area, varying from large estate lots and farm properties to rural subdivisions. There is some limited commercial activity. Agricultural activity consists of some remaining farmland (mainly beef production and market gardens) as well as considerable commercial and private horse stabling uses. While first impressions from the roadside might indicate that most houses are large and expensive, there are also many older, smaller homes and limited incomes.
The business part of our monthly meetings usually discusses familiar matters, particularly traffic, land use, zoning and site plans. In fact, some of these issues have been coming around for about forty years, and it must be said that sometimes there are no right answers, or solutions that will satisfy every point of view. Therefore, the MRCA often does its best to represent all points of view in communicating to the City. It is sometimes the case that the MRCA takes no position, but rather asks that specific issues be carefully considered in the overall decision – making process. However, in some matters, the MRCA feels that the time for a change in procedure and policy is overdue.
The MRCA, being a rural community association on the edge of an expanding urban community, has observed a great deal of development. We’ve seen what was rural farmland become intensely urban areas, and we’ve watched rural land become residential estate lots. We have made submissions on many issues in our community, ranging from Kanata North Urban Expansion and Kanata West, the Corel Centre through to estate subdivisions, site plans and minor variances. It is fair to say that the MRCA does not oppose development if we are convinced that it is well – planned; we reflect what our former Mayor Nichols aptly called a “show me” attitude. There are however some issues where we have real concern. These issues come up because it seems like we are the only people participating in the planning process who have a long-term memory.
We feel strongly that there is a lack of depth in the review of new development by City staff and Councilors. This is not to suggest that individuals aren’t doing the best that they can, but rather that the system does not encourage awareness of what has gone before, nor does it reward initiative. Turnover in staff exacerbates the problem; perhaps it is fair to say that there is a lack of corporate memory in the new City even after a decade. Developments typically proceed phase by phase. It often seems to be the case that developments are proceeding well before the commitments made in preceding phases have been met, and indeed that the City accepts that conditions have been complied with when in fact this is not the case. Moreover, there is a feeling that City Planning staff rely too much on the data they find in the office – maps and satellite photos – without actually walking the ground. The flooding that occurs in spring is not shown in a hydrogeology study conducted in August.
The March Road Arterial study, the Kanata North Urban Expansion OMB hearings and report, and the Kanata West Expansion Area studies are now old history to some. They were major projects that our members participated in because of our desire to participate in good planning. There is a worry that the work of these studies has been put aside, or forgotten. The cost of arterial road expansion to serve development in Kanata North was a key issue in OMB hearings, yet the commitment to have proper infrastructure in place before subdivisions were built was ignored. The community should not be presented with proposals for development that trip over policy decisions that have already been agreed on, following lengthy community consultation and approval by Council.
The development of estate lots provides a good case in point. These applications come piecemeal, sometimes for one lot and sometimes for fifty, and apparently are dealt with on an ad hoc basis. We feel that there is no overall plan to rural growth. The MRCA acknowledge that there are contrasting points of view about rural estate development; on the one hand, the property owner, who is sometimes a long-standing rural resident and farmer, wishes to maximize the value of his land; on the other hand, the great change that estate development may upset adjacent neighbours. There is obviously a balancing of interests in dealing with these applications, and sometimes the best the MRCA can do is acknowledge that both points of view have validity. We would suggest that the City needs an overall “inventory” of rural lots available, and a clear policy to provide a basis for decision making. There should, for example, be a commitment to linking developments by pathways to avoid pedestrian and cycle traffic on arterial roads. Moreover, the traffic studies conducted should not focus on the incremental traffic from each subdivision, but rather reflect more accurately the traffic on the whole of the system, some of which originates from outside Ottawa.
Over the forty years of our Community Association, there has been a major shift in the public’s view about development, particularly along the urban boundary. The increasing cost of infrastructure, the cost of providing adequate transit, and the potential harm to the environment are all factors that have taken on increasing importance in recent years. Thus, the view that the urban boundary is flexible, and that “there will always be lots of land in the countryside to annex” has come into question, and there is a growing commitment to urban infill rather than suburban sprawl as reflected in the last Official Plan. In short, the goalposts for new development have moved; the MRCA believes that a much higher consideration should be given to protecting and supporting the ecosystem as a whole if the rural lifestyle is to be maintained. The planning system, however, given the natural lag in approvals, continues to be based on decisions made when development was the rule, rather than a carefully reviewed right for landowners and entrepreneurs. The debate surrounding the South March Highlands clearly raises these important issues. It is very difficult to find a “right” answer to these questions and community involvement is fundamental to good decision-making.
This issue flows, and flows downhill, from the issues above. Rural residents depend on their own wells and septic systems. We own them and we maintain them; we are expected to fix them when they go wrong. Planners always pay attention to storm water management in new urban development; urban storm water is rural ground water. The difficult question with respect to rural estate development is determining the capacity of the water table to support continued new use.
How big an area are we really dealing with when we talk about ground water resources? Will estate development in the Highlands affect the water in wells on Huntmar Road? How would the development of a quarry impact local landowners? Will a new estate subdivision on Dunrobin Road with forty or fifty new wells and septic tanks cause local wells to fail? Common sense tells us that at some point, we are going to run into a problem. Is it enough to accept, on an individual basis, that test wells have been drilled and water seems to be sufficient? The awkward answer has to be “we don’t know”.
When water quality problems arise residents will look to the City for relief; this is what happened in Carp and Manotick. Residents will be quick to point to new development as the source of problems. We know there are well water issues in Dunrobin, and that development affected many wells on the Old Carp Road. Water issues are also important respecting two major garbage dumps, one private and one formerly operated by March Township, that we need to watch. We know wells failed on the March Road in recent years, that urban subdivision construction caused damage to rural wells, and that some storm – water retention ponds have been badly designed leading to well failures in adjacent rural homes.
The MRCA must plant that seed of doubt about water resources and further rural development, because if we get it wrong, we are all going to pay for it. There is a considerable and justifiable concern for our water quality, and efforts could be made to develop a comprehensive rural water resources plan, which identifies known problems, tracks water flows, water quality and water quantity for the whole of the rural area. At the very least the city could develop a data bank of the individual studies that have been done in the past, and require testing and cataloguing of well water quality when properties are sold. The MRCA did participate in the sub-committee examining water resources as part of the Official Plan Review, and we must continue to watch this issue closely.
The ongoing controversy about storm water issues respecting the Kanata West Expansion Area, the Carp River and the South March Highlands cannot but serve to emphasize the MRCA’s point that water systems need to be dealt with as a whole, and not on a piecemeal basis. It is imperative not only that the City’s planners require proper studies before development proceeds, but that the quality and veracity of these private studies be confirmed by City Engineers or independent staff. It may be that too much reliance is placed on what has been done before, and that little research is done de novo.
With respect to both water and development issues, there are tremendous long-term consequences to getting it wrong. Let’s not find out an intersection should be widened only after a major accident involving a school bus with our kids on it. Let’s not have a sudden change in water well quality affecting a large number of residents. Let’s not have dozens of urban homes flooded in a microburst because storm water systems are designed piecemeal. These scenarios are ones we have been raising flags about for years, yet there seems to be no action. The MRCA would prefer not to be in a position to never again have to say “We told you so.”
The Right to Farm
In submissions to revisions to the Official Plans, and the MRCA has always made submissions and participated extensively. We have consistently asked for an affirmation of the right to farm in our rural area. This isn’t a given by any means. City folks who move to the country like the dark skies and the fresh air, but they often complain that traffic is held up by a tractor on the road, about the noise of farm equipment running long hours on a seasonal basis, or about farm smells. The farmers were here first and they have a right to pursue their business. The recent interest in eating food grown locally underlines the need for local farming to continue.
The MRCA works for the good of our rural community, and it has carried on this mission for more than forty years. Its efforts are wholly voluntary. It meets regularly and works hard to maintain good communications with city elected officials and staff, and their provincial counterparts.
The MRCA sees a strong need for a longer – term view in planning for our rural community, particularly with respect to appropriate land use and water resources. If the present system continues to view each planning or development issue in isolation from the cumulative whole, then failure is inevitable. Our hope is to work with the city to reinforce the need to set, and pursue, longer term objectives that will safeguard the well – being of our community.