With COVID-19 protocols in place, more than 100 people — in two gymnasiums and listening from outside — were present at a public hearing regarding a development planned adjacent to the Vernon heron rookery on 20th Street Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. (Caitlin Clow - Vernon Morning Star)

Protective covenant instated for Vernon heron rookery

Lengthy public hearing ends as council strikes balance for developers, public

City of Vernon councillors voted unanimously in favour to protect the great blue herons by implementing a covenant ensuring developers have a plan crafted by an environmental professional ahead of issuing a development permit for the property adjacent to the heronry on 20th Street.

Scotland Constructors’ co-owners Brennan Scott and Melissa Wetteland were among the 50 people in the Recreation Centre Auditorium during the second public hearing regarding rezoning the property at 5000-20th Street, Monday, Sept. 14. Another 50 people were seated in the Dogwood Gymnasium and more were seated outside, despite the wildfire smoke, to listen in through speakers.

Vernon councillors received 253 written submissions and heard from dozens of concerned residents pleading for a restrictive protective covenant ensuring the blue-listed at-risk species would be protected from construction-related noise associated with the developer’s proposed low-rise apartment complex.

“I grew up a few blocks from there,” Scotland Constructors co-owner Scott said of the heron rookery. “I signed a petition back when I was in elementary, I worked many of my first jobs around there.”

Scott said he doesn’t want to harm the herons in any way and wants to work with everyone to ensure this community asset was protected even while development is underway.

“I want to emphasize that I’m not here to disturb or hurt anything,” he said, noting he’s willing to work with a Qualified Environmental Professional (QEP), the City of Vernon and the provincial guidelines and develop a covenant prior to construction.

This piqued Coun. Brian Quiring’s interest, he said, which he later put forward as a motion.

A protective covenant was put in place on the property July 8, 2018. Albeit never finalized, the covenant ordered a 100-metre noise buffer zone and limit construction during the heron’s spring-summer nesting season among other stipulations.

Upon completion of a private land survey and environmental assessment on behalf of the developers, Scotland Constructors wrote to council in May 2020 requesting the restrictions be lifted as the proposed property is outside the noise buffer zone. Council voted to pass the request at the time to prevent going to another public hearing as that would slow the construction processes.

At the next meeting, the issue was brought up again for reconsideration.

Coun. Dalvir Nahal, who originally brought the reconsideration forward, defended the action Monday evening.

“They have every right to ask us if they can have the covenant removed,” Nahal said, reminding the public she never indicated she was against the covenant. “They are entitled to have a reconsideration when the developers ask if they have their covenant removed.”

As part of the proposed development, an active transportation corridor right of way was planned to go through the land near the rookery.

This was a concern for Vernon resident Jane Weixl.

“Every square foot of this field is used by herons to find food,” she said, noting a pathway would attract barking dogs, loud children, skateboards and scooters and more that could disturb the birds with high-decibel activities.

“They’re already living on a postage stamp of land and it has continued to get smaller and smaller,” Weixl said.

Coun. Akbal Mund said after spending some time in the area and listening closely to already present activities, he too is worried about the active transportation corridor.

“I spent five or six hours in the area and I heard a lot: dogs barking, weed whacker…,” he said. “The decibel of a dog barking can be as high of 120.”

City staff assured the pathway would only proceed when the rookery no longer exists. The herons will move on and find a new home once the cottonwood trees in the heronry expire.

Coun. Quiring moved the developers bring forth a protection and mitigation plan developed by a QEP before a development permit will be issued.

This motion, passed unanimously following the nearly three-hour meeting, appeared to satisfy council, the developers and members of the public.

READ MORE: Fall hearing for Vernon heron rookery

READ MORE: Vernon rookery protections set for public hearing again


@caitleerach
Caitlin.clow@vernonmorningstar.com

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