Residents voice frustration with accessible nature path in Byron Valley

Nature lovers are speaking out about London’s plans for an accessible trail that would wind its way through the Byron Valley environmentally significant area (ESA).

During Monday evening’s planning and environment committee meeting, concerned residents delivered a 116-signature petition and 15 letters to voice their fears about endangered species and the trail’s impact on the land.

“This trail would cause irreversible environmental damage to the area,” said Debbie Park, who lives in the area and wants Byron Valley to go untouched.

The eastern hog-nosed snake, the spiny softshell turtle, and freshwater mussels are some of the at-risk species that call the area near Oxford Street and Commissioners Road, south of the Thames River home, Park explained.

“Putting a lookout and a pathway, in an endangered species habitat, should not be considered,” she said, adding that intentions for easy public access and parking would invite kayaks and canoes that would damage the endangered shoreline habitat.

The proposed plan includes creating a new entrance from Commissioners Road, building two river lookouts, and upgrading some dirt trails to gravel for inclusive access.

The plan for the Byron Valley Nature Path.

Though Park took issue with the impact on natural habitats, a report before the committee says the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority and the Ministry of Natural Resources were both consulted on the plan and had “no concerns with respect to species to risk and the nature trail enhancements.”

David Sutherland, a Participation House resident who lives nearby and has mobility issues, was the only resident who showed support for the trail during the meeting. Support worker Stacey Sutton spoke on his behalf.

“This trail offers all nature lovers a place to relax, interact, connect, and exercise together, creating a strong sense of community,” she said.

“David stands in support of the accessible trail for all, but more importantly a trail that’ll bring community close together with people who would not normally have the opportunity to connect.”

Ward 9 Coun. Anna Hopkins noted that the environment and accessibility are both important and that she “didn’t think those two should be pitted against one another.” But her motion to have the issue referred back to staff didn’t get any traction, and the committee voted 3-1 to receive the trail report and include more community engagement along the way.

The committee also put its support behind a list of tools that can be used to create more affordable housing units in London. The list includes inclusionary zoning, community improvement plans, and bonusing.

Those tools are already being put in motion: a massive high-rise planned for the current Family Circle Restaurant site is adding 10 units of affordable housing at 95 per cent market rate, as part of the bonusing contributions to exceed height and density limitations.

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