The leader of the group trying to stop a big box development near Ojibway prairie lands has said the fight is not over, despite having an appeal denied by the Ontario Municipal Board.
“It’s a very sad day for Ojibway and the species that live there,” said Nancy Pancheshan, a LaSalle resident who started the Save Ojibway Group and has been working to stop the development for years.
The Coco Group received approval from city council to build a 400,000 square foot commercial centre in 2007. The other option at the time was to build a new subdivision of homes.
In September 2014, the previous council voted again to support the development in exchange for ownership of a 10-acre parcel of land, which would act as a barrier between the development and the Ojibway system.
The lands are east of the former Windsor Raceway site, south of Ojibway Nature Centre and Park, west of the Ojibway Prairie Provincial Nature Reserve and north of Ambassador Golf Club and condominium development.
The total lands in question are about 19.2 hectares and were once used by Windsor Raceway for a practice track and stables.
According to the OMB decision, no new roads are proposed with this development, but existing roads will widen by 4 metres and the intersection of Matchette Road and Sprucewood Avenue will be reconstructed.
Pancheshan, whose case was with both Coco and the City of Windsor, said this issue is about protecting the 4,000 plant and animal species in the Ojibway Prairie.
The developers still require site plan approval and pass a review from the Essex Region Conservation Authority. Pancheshan also has the option of going through a judicial review process, which she said she’s looking at.
“It’s also a time that the City of Windsor and the (Ontario) minister of natural resources and the conservation authority have to play a role in protecting Ojibway,” she said.
Deputy city solicitor Wira Vendrasco, who represented the city on the case, said it was “wonderful” their evidence was accepted by the board.
“I can’t even imagine how much time has gone into this,” said Vendrasco. “When I look at the planning evidence the board included in his decision to come to his conclusion, basically he’s repeating the evidence that my planner gave.”
The Save Ojibway Group organized a petition calling on the provincial government to put a stop to the development. Windsor-Tecumseh MPP Percy Hatfield tabled 4,000 signatures in June and another combined 8,700 with Windsor West MPP Lisa Gretzky in October.
Hatfield said from a provincial perspective, the only hope is that the government purchases the land or offers other land in exchange.
“The minister could have stepped in prior to an OMB hearing, but not after an OMB hearing,” he said. “The cabinet no longer has the right to overturn any kind of an OMB decision.”
Hatfield said he’s disappointed, but not surprised the appeal was denied. He said Pancheshan’s team did everything they could with the resources available.
“I think they won a moral victory in that they got everybody’s interest in that development,” said Hatfield, who originally voted in favour of the development in 2007 as a city councillor. “They’ve raised the environmental consciousness of thousands and thousands of people. I think they’ve convinced many of us that we should have a much wider environmental footprint there.”
Pancheshan said she’s looking forward to the minister of natural resources’ response to how the government will protect 14 of the endangered and threatened species near the land.
She said this issue is part of a province-wide problem. She pointed to the environmental commissioner of Ontario’s Nov. 3 report, which stated the government’s annual land acquisition budget decreased from $5.1 million to $1,000 for the whole province over the last five years.
“Perhaps Ojibway is the catalyst for starting the fire for heightened protection for our natural lands,” she said.