Birch Cove Lakes-Blue Mountain wilderness threatened by development

A high-powered and high-dollared political battle in City Hall is playing out largely unnoticed by local media. At stake are potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in suburban development and the future of a proposed wilderness park celebrated as an unparallelled urban gem by environmentalists.

Over the past few years wilderness advocates have successfully convinced the provincial government to designate 1,350 hectares of crown land as the Birch Cove-Blue Mountain Wilderness, and managed to get a similarly named municipal wilderness park written into the HRM regional plan; the city park would incorporate both the crown land and now-privately held land bound by the Bayers Lake Industrial Park, the proposed Highway 113 corridor, the Kingswood subdivision in Hammond's Plains and a ridgeline just to the west of the Bicentennial Highway. The resulting park would include nine lakes that form a continuous canoe loop, the highlands of Blue Mountain and a striking wilderness landscape---all on a chunk of land about the size of the Halifax peninsula, just 15 minutes from downtown.

The regional plan calls for the creation of the park and says the privately owned land can't be developed in the 25-year lifetime of the plan. But the private landowners---which include the two largest development companies in Nova Scotia, the Annapolis Group and Armco Development---have asked the Regional Plan Advisory Committee to amend the plan to allow them to place suburban homes on the land. The developers have been lobbying hard on the issue, and through two meetings of perhaps 50 people crammed into the un-air conditioned Finley Centre, the committee has been fairly responsive. While applying political pressure, the developers have put up "no trespassing" signs and blocked parking on formerly accessible lots off the BiHi. The committee continues its deliberation August 11; see here and here for more information, and I'll follow up in this space as the meeting approaches.

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