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Suburban homes proposed for park

Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lake Wilderness Park set to be sunk into suburbia by politically connected developers.

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If Halifax's most politically connected developers get their way, land within the city's proposed Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lake Wilderness Park will instead get developed as suburban neighbourhoods.

The land in question is 500 acres west of the Bicentennial Highway, owned by four groups---Annapolis Group, Armco Capital, Gateway Materials and Sisters of Charity. The largest of the four are Annapolis and Armco. Annapolis is controlled by the Jodrey family, which also owns Minas Basin Pulp and Power Company and, with assets of nearly a half-billion dollars, is listed as one of "Canada's richest people" by Canadian Business online. Armco and its associated businesses and employees are by far the largest contributor to HRM election campaigns, regularly dropping thousands of dollars into the coffers of mayor Peter Kelly and other councillors.

About half of the 500 acres is designated "urban settlement" in the Halifax Regional Plan, which means that sometime before 2026 it can be opened up for development. The other half is designated "urban reserve," which for these lands means that it can't even be considered for development before 2026.

The private lands in the "urban reserve" zone are also within the boundaries of the proposed park, which additionally includes 3,336 acres of provincial land that last year was designated as protected wilderness. That designation anticipated the city buying the private lands and creating the wilderness park.

But the property owners have asked the city to instead initiate the planning process for both the urban settlement and urban reserve lands they own. Such planning violates the regional plan, but the city planning department has already paid for an engineering study outlining the costs of bringing city services like roads and sewers to the supposedly undevelopable "urban reserve" land. The proposal to allow development will come before council "in coming weeks," says planner Roger Wells.

About 100 people showed up at a staff presentation on the issue at Keshen Goodman Library last Friday, all of them opposed to development.

"The park was the plan the city forgot about," Raymond Plourde of the Ecology Action Centre told the group. "The moment the regional plan was passed, the park was forgotten about." —Tim Bousquet

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