New stage for Big Pond RV park issue

Big Pond Centre organic farmer Rita MacDonald gets a hug from aunt Paula MacInnis after testifying at a Nova Scotia Utilities and Review Board hearing into an appeal by a group of area residents who are challenging a CBRM council decision to amend its land-use bylaw to allow for the development of an RV park and campground in the central Cape Breton community. – David Jala

SYDNEY, N.S. — Opponents of a proposed RV park and campground showed up in force on Wednesday when a provincial tribunal began hearing their appeal of a Cape Breton Regional Municipality decision that paves the way for the controversial development.

About 50 people, most of whom are opposed to the plan by an Alberta developer to build a 211-site RV park in Big Pond Centre, attended the opening session of the scheduled three-day Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board hearing that is taking place in a downtown Sydney hotel conference room.

The UARB hearing, chaired by the board’s vice-chair Roland Deveau, is looking into an appeal launched by a seven-person group challenging a CBRM council vote in March that narrowly (7-6) approved an application by the developer to amend the municipality’s land-use bylaw to allow for the development of the proposed RV park and campground.

Prior to the calling of the first witness, Deveau outlined the hearing process and reminded those in attendance of the narrow parameters that the board was authorized to consider.

“The tests to be applied in appeals to this board are quite restricted,” he stated.

The appellants filed the appeal on the grounds that the CBRM decision was not consistent with the CBRM’s Municipal Planning Strategy (MPS) that was developed pursuant to the province’s Municipal Government Act (MGA).

The group, represented at the hearing by former lawyer Jim MacDonald, contends that the decision did not adhere to the spirit of the MPA.

“The appellants say that the CBRM planners and the CBRM council did not adequately evaluate the zoning amendment proposal with respect to several provisions of the MPS, including visual compatibility, dust or fumes, traffic and noise,” MacDonald stated in his opening remarks.

“The appellants also say the project runs counter to agricultural land protection.”

The group was dealt a setback last month when the UARB ruled that it would not consider a couple of the appellants’ environmental arguments as they were outside of its jurisdiction.

However, that didn’t stop witnesses from taking the stand in an effort to persuade the board to overturn the CBRM decision.

Roy MacInnis, an appellant who lives on family land that sits adjacent to the proposed campground, told the hearing he is very concerned the proposed development will be detrimental to the organic farming business he started last year.

He then presented a number of concerns, including that of a potential fire.

“If you have fire pits near a barn full of hay, it wouldn’t take too long to burn a barn down,” said MacInnis, adding that the development is just too close to his land.

“I enjoy the privacy I have now, and I don’t think I’d enjoy having people watching me all day — I enjoy looking at the trees, but I don’t know how many trees will be left after this.”

Rita MacDonald is a niece of MacInnis and is partnering with him on the organic farm.

“I am concerned about pollution coming to our vegetables,” said the young farmer, who resides in nearby Johnstown.

“I am not an expert, but during the time of the (CBRM) public hearing I submitted some research that I had done that indicated both air pollution, especially particulate matter in the air, can affect the growth of vegetables which is of great concern to me because our main income generators in the garden are leafy greens such as salad mix, lettuce, Asian greens, spinach and kale.”

Gertrude MacIntyre, who teaches community development at Cape Breton University, said she moved to Big Pond Centre some 40 years ago because of the serenity offered by its pastoral setting and natural environment. And, she worries that peace will be disrupted by an RV park that she said is purely a business development as opposed to a community development.

“It will change the landscape of our community,” said MacIntyre, who was only permitted to testify as a concerned resident and not as an expert on community development because she wasn’t registered as such prior to the hearing.

“We like business development and we’d have you in if it was suitable to our environment, but we can’t support it in a community that is not a good fit for that kind of development because it destroys the nature of the community.”

Other witnesses who took the stand on Wednesday included CBRM District 7 Coun. Ivan Doncaster, area resident Carl MacIntyre, CBU biology professor Rod Beresford, who holds an oyster farming lease in Lochmore Harbour, the barachois pond that separates the proposed RV park location from the Bras d’Or Lake, Ann MacIntyre of Big Pond Centre, and Paula MacInnis, a seasonal resident of the area and sister of Roy MacInnis.

The hearing that extended into Wednesday evening resumes Thursday, when the appellant group will call several more witnesses to the stand. Once they have had their say, the board will hear from CBRM witnesses under the direction of municipal solicitor Demetri Kachafanas.

The developer, Chris Skidmore, attended the afternoon portion of Wednesday’s session and sat with lawyer Chris Conohan who, like Kachafanas, was an active participant in the opening day when he cross-examined most of the appellants’ witnesses.

If the hearing does not wrap up Thursday, it will continue on Friday.

The UARB is not expected to make an immediate decision.

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