Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Origin of a Protest

It may have been cold and blustery outside last Monday night, but the resolve was on fire at Fresh Start on Baker Street as the first official meeting of the Land Is More Important Than Sprawl, or LIMITS began. Over 50 people filled the small space on the first floor of the Baker Street Centre in order to discuss direction in terms of mounting an appeal to the construction of a 675-acre industrial and business park development. The long in the works Hanlon Creek Business Park has been on the books for years, but it looks to moving forward to a groundbreaking sometime this year.

The problem? That nearly a quarter of that land is home to an old growth forest, where some trees are as old as 500 years, with many more well above the age of 200. As presented in the meeting, the land, which is west of the Hanlon with Laird Road running through the centre of it, is also home to 90 species of birds, 20 species of reptiles and several mammal species including deer, coyote and fox. The focus on local wildlife had a purpose, or as one member of LIMITS observed, “It’s about respect and realizing that there are things that belong here besides us.”

Much of the main presentation was about the environmental impact on the specific area where the HCBP hopes to set up shop and the Guelph area generally. The Downey Well sits on this tract of land, a source of water that supplies Guelph with 20 per cent of what it drinks. The Hanlon Creek itself feeds into the Speed River acting as a “recharge zone,” as well as being one of the four, major tributaries to the Grand River, which serves Cambridge and the Six Nations Reserve.

The way LIMITS sees it, there are some fairly large stakes for not just Guelph, but the surrounding community, should construction of the HCBP move forward. The point of last Monday’s meeting was two fold: to gage interest in making this activist start-up a more formal entity and kicking around some ideas about how to launch the “official” protest, so to speak. And time is of the essence, members of the group feel, they believe that the melting of the snow may herald the beginning of the end for this patch of greenspace.

Several options were discussed including make appeals to Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Gord Miller and bringing the issue back to the City Council. LIMITS is also interested in exploring brownfield options, considering so much land in the inner city is already built on and simply waiting for business to make use of it. First and foremost, they want to avoid a situation where the wetlands and forests on the proposed HCBP site are drained and clear cut.

They’re concerned about a recent trend in construction called Speculative Development, where an area is cleared by the landowners as they try and sell the space and find tenants and finding tenants maybe an issue given current economic conditions. According to Statistics Canada, the number of new building permits issued nationwide declined by 12 per cent in November, the most recent month numbers have been released for. In Ontario, non-residential building permits were down by 30 per cent over the same period in 2007.

As for LIMITS’ next stage plans, they hope to keep up their momentum from Monday night with more meetings in the next couple of weeks. They’re also seeking out alliances with other environmental and pro-responsible development groups in order to make an impact on the public consciousness and get their message out before any shovels dig into the earth on the HCBP property. For full details on the city’s plans for the Hanlon Creek Business Park, you can check it out on the city’s website for this link: And to learn more about LIMITS, you visit their Facebook group or fire off an e-mail to

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