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Unpaving Paradise hits the news stands!

Thursday, August, 23, 2012 - 10:10:00 AM

Unpaving Paradise

By Craig Campbell, Dundas Star News

A group of McMaster University faculty want to unpave paradise and remove a parking lot.

Biology professor Jim Quinn is one of those calling for a redevelopment of a west campus parking area to go beyond creating a 30-metre buffer along Ancaster Creek and eliminate twice as many parking spaces and reclaim the natural wetland that once existed there.

“Our vision is to convert Lot M parking spots into the MACmarsh research facility by making more efficient use of existing campus parking; at peak demand there are still over 1,000 unused parking spaces,” a one page memo presented to McMaster University administration states.

In an interview, Quinn said reclaiming the natural wetland west of Cootes Drive would be better for Ancaster Creek, and create a valuable research area for professors and students in several programs.

“I think it’s really important and that’s why I’m supporting it,” Quinn said. “It makes the area more ecologically sound. It improves the natural area of the university.

“We have an excess of parking. We should be planning for the future to remove parking.”

Randy Kay, volunteer co-ordinator at McMaster-based OPIRG, has supported the reclaiming of the west campus parking for some time. He’s led several tours of the area, hoping to show people the potential for a naturalized research facility

“It will be the first of its kind in Canada, if it goes through,” Kay said.

He’s aware of an American university that converted an empty field into a wetland research facility – but notes in this case the idea is to remove a parking lot that replaced the original wetland.

“This is restoring a wetland that was there before. That’s what is particularly exciting about this,” Kay said. “I think it could be one of the most exciting things that could happen on campus.”

Hamilton Conservation Authority watershed manager Scott Peck said the authority is working with the university on a parking master plan that implements a 30-metre buffer zone between pavement and Ancaster Creek.

“The buffer does not currently exist and as stated, the HCA is working with McMaster University on including this buffer when the redevelopment of the parking area is undertaken,” Peck said.

He said the minimum buffer can not be “enforced retroactively”, the authority can not require it with the existing parking lot. But with redevelopment of the parking lot expected, the authority is working with McMaster to realize that minimum buffer.

Gary Moore, director of engineering services for the City of Hamilton, said construction of a combined sewage overflow tank next to Lot M took place between 2009 and 2011.

“They had to close the parking lot for us, and part of it was unusable where we piled the material,” he said.

Moore is working on an agreement that will reimburse McMaster for lost parking revenues and also help fund reconstruction or naturalization of the area – whatever McMaster chooses to do.

No figure is available as Moore is still finalizing the agreement and will need council approval to conclude the process.

In the one page memo, Quinn and his colleagues state the reclamation “will be funded by money owed by the City of Hamilton” and donors.

“McMaster University has an opportunity to take a relatively un-used parking lot and restore it to its original ecological function, likely at zero or no net cost.”

Tys Theysmeyer, Royal Botanical Gardens head of natural lands, said recreating a buffer along Ancaster Creek – one of only three coldwater streams that connect to Lake Ontario – will improve water quality and diversity in the creek.

He said another benefit is the ability to create a “wildlife and people corridor” between two large natural areas – the Dundas Valley and Cootes Paradise.

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