The National Capital Commission is looking at scrapping a proposed expansion of the Greenbelt after landowners at a consultation meeting reacted with a level of opposition which, according to NCC CEO Jean-François Trépanier, caught the federal agency by surprise.
“They started in this with all the good intentions,” Trépanier said of NCC staff. “And we may have created more anxiety than we should have. I recognize that.”
The meeting in question, held last Wednesday night at St. John’s Anglican Church in Kanata, was an open house with residents in the Shirleys Bay area who own land just outside the Greenbelt. The NCC invited them there to discuss the idea of extending the Greenbelt to include these private properties.
The NCC isn’t looking to buy the land — they have been up front about not having the money for large-scale land acquisitions anymore — but just to extend the Greenbelt designation to cover the land while it stays in private hands.
The purpose of the proposal, which would also include lands in the Mer Bleue, airport and Carlsbad Springs areas, is to conserve ecological areas and create more extensive natural habitats.So what's the problem? The NCC isn't expropriating the land, and the residents retain ownership of their property, don't they?
The landowners came out in force, most of them to say they would in no way welcome the federal government’s protective designation becoming attached to their land. For those interested in developing their land in the future, or in selling it to someone who might, it’s one thing to try to change a municipal zoning designation; dealing with a Greenbelt stamp on the deed is quite another.
“Who wants to buy land if they can’t do anything with it,” said Ed Warnock, one of the landowners at the meeting who was convinced that a Greenbelt designation would effectively freeze the zoning forever.
Another landowner, Mary Kennedy, whose property is just off Highway 417, said she had just about completed the sale of her land when the buyer found out about the NCC proposal and backed out of the deal.The problem is that greenbelt designation effectively changes the future value of the land, despite promises of tax rebates for affected landowners. Understandably the owners aren't too pleased that their investments are about to be downgraded.
Mr. Trépanier expressed surprise that the NCC's coercive action was not well received:
Should the NCC have been surprised that land owners would want to understand the issue in terms of rights and legal powers?
“In retrospect, it’s easy to say ‘No,’ ” said Trépanier, adding that it was “probably an oversight” not to have been prepared for such a line of questioning.
Trépanier said the agency approached the discussion with the landowners in a sincere attempt to find willing partners in the conservation effort. In fact, coercion was so far from their minds, he said, that they never thought to ready themselves for the legal questions.
“You see, we never looked at it that way.”Of course he didn't - people like him never do. Social planning true believers have always had an uncomfortable relationship with the concept of private property; it is merely an inconvenience on the road to Utopia. If the rights of a few greedy landowners have to be sacrificed "to create a more extensive natural habitat" and it's all for the greater good, then so be it. If it saves one turtle, it's worth it.
If the NCC wants to preserve the land in question, they should buy it outright and compensate the owners for the true value of their property. Encumbering the land in a web of red tape and zoning regulations is the worst kind of abuse of government power - it's done by distant bureaucrats at no expense or inconvenience to themselves, all for the vague and fuzzy goals of enriching the "community".
In the old movie cliché the peasants took up their torches and pitchforks and marched to the manor house when something like this happened. Today I'm glad to see that the landowners are forcefully expressing their displeasure at public forums that may in fact derail this bone-headed proposal.