Saucier fries clear-cutting approval for Russell A&W burger joint builder

Russell Township Councillor Cindy Saucier. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News file

Tom Van Dusen
Nation Valley News

EMBRUN — A Russell Township councillor feels the municipality is giving the wrong example by permitting clearcutting of a prominent plot of trees adjacent to the central traffic roundabout to accommodate a developer who claims he can’t secure commercial leases without improved visibility.

Insisting she’s in favour of economic development but “with integrity,” Councillor Cindy Saucier was the only member of council to vote recently against removing the trees on municipal land adjacent to 1044 St. Guillaume Road to heighten visibility for a new A&W restaurant and other pending businesses.

Property owner Nav Aggarwal has stated repeatedly he can’t proceed with the A&W and a 5,000 square-ft. Phase 2 projects unless the site is fully visible for Embrun’s main street, Notre Dame; most township staff agree the plot of trees should be cleaned up with a combination of at least partial clearance, preserving some mature trees, and a landscaping plan. Who’ll pay for the work remains to be determined.

When council met on the matter earlier in July, CAO Jean Leduc cautioned about cutting the trees without a firm commitment the Aggarwal project will go ahead, as in a building permit being issued. Leduc emphasized many residents could become upset if the trees were to be cut and the lot left empty with no development proceeding. Aggarwal has given next spring for his construction start.

Staff members have also noted that the roundabout serves as the gateway to Embrun Village and businesses around it should be highlighted with clear sight lines. The $19,700 Aggarwal would owe in cash-in-lieu of parkland fees could be applied to maintenance of the adjacent municipal property; clearing most of the trees would cost the township up to $5,000.

Aggarwal requested assurance in writing that all existing trees will be removed from the township property and if a decision is taken to replant, it be with shrubs or low level trees. His request was granted in a motion moved by Councillor Jamie Laurin and seconded by Councillor Mike Tarnowski.

Saucier said she was in favour of creating a limited sight line to the A&W and future commercial neighbours but that removing so many trees was unnecessary: “I felt the trees could serve as a backdrop to the site, making it nicer to sit out at the restaurant.”

“As a township, we should be ashamed of promoting clearcutting,” she observed. “Once these trees are gone, how long will the area sit empty?”

A long-time conservationist who has been lobbying for decades to save and plant trees, Saucier is very active with South Nation Conservation which has indicated that Russell’s tree cover falls far short of the recommended ratio.

Saucier also insisted the decision to cut the trees goes against the municipality’s overall planning strategy and the tree canopy bylaw. Her concern has been picked up by local environmental group Eco East whose president Charles Armstrong is questioning the legality of council’s decision.

Armstrong cited sections of the Ontario Municipal Act prohibiting a municipality from assisting a business in any way with special considerations: “Please inform me how the intentions of the township do not violate the Municipal Act,” Armstrong requested in a note to the municipality.

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