A sprawling residential proposal for the Davis Tannery lands has received pushback because of the number of trees that would have to be cut down.
A local grassroots group says it’s in the city’s best interest to deny the housing project and use a natural treatment for the lands with the help of a Montreal-based NGO.
“It will become a desert, basically,” says Kerry Hill, a member of No Clearcuts Kingston.
Concerns about the 37-acre property along Kingston’s inner harbour are ramping up. For the last five years, there has been controversy surrounding a new housing and commercial development proposed for the former tannery lands.
That may mean cutting down an estimated 2,000 trees and filling in a portion of a wetland to allow the construction of a new subdivision.
However, the area has extensive contamination from a century of heavy industrial use, most notably when it was the site of the Davis Tannery.
The proposed project includes an environmental cleanup by the developer Patry Incorporated, which is something the Greater Kingston Chamber of Commerce says will be good for business.
“The Greater Kingston Chamber of Commerce supports the Patry development as it aligns with several business and environmental initiatives,” says the chamber in a statement.
Hill, a member of the group No Clearcuts Kingston and former biologist with Queen’s University, says business benefits of the development shouldn’t outweigh what she claims will be a significant environmental impact on the area.
“No mature trees are going to be able to grow on the capped property,” Hill says.
“The shoreline, which is now housing all sorts of wildlife including plants and animals, and this will be gone.”
Instead, the group says the city should buy the property back and remediate the lands naturally using something called phytoremediation.
A Montreal-based organization called Phyto Action specializes in the process.
“We usually promote high evapotranspiration plants like such willows or poplars, which act as pumps in the soil, and so they really concentrate the soil solution within the roots,” says Béatrice Gervais-Bergeron, vice president of Phyto Action.
No Clearcuts Kingston member and Phyto Action contact Anabel Mills says it’s a cheaper solution that could have economic benefits as well.
“We would attract national or even international recognition,” she says. “Which would actually bring more tourists to Kingston, and in the end, would produce more funds for the city.”
However, Latoya Powder, an urban developer working for Patry Incorporated, says the company’s environmental experts say the method won’t work here.
“We have heavy metal contamination and the plants wouldn’t be able to seep up the chromium, lead and the mercury,” Powder says.
No Clearcuts Kingston says it will continue to fight, as another debate on the proposal will be heard at the city’s planning committee meeting Thursday night.