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Charlottetown, The Guardian: Local News | Capital city squeezed out but still in control of Upton Farm planning

August 5, 2009

Charlottetown, The Guardian: Local News | Capital city squeezed out but still in control of Upton Farm planning

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Kirsten Connor’s Speech from June Press Conference

July 13, 2009

Kirsten Speaks at Press Conference

Thank you. Ladies & Gentlemen.  Preserving this significant portion of the Upton Farmlands as green space for public use and in perpetuity is a testimony  to vision and cooperation.

A hundred years from now, when the Charlottetown area takes in half of Queens County, people will say, “where would we be without Upton Farm?”, just as we say today, – “where would we be without Victoria Park”.

When thousands of buildings have been built and torn down again, the Upton Farm will still be there in all its splendor and more valuable than ever.

The support for preserving this land has been extraordinary and enduring right from 2,000 people signing petitions three years ago to joining in with e-mails and calls later.

Many groups such as the Shellfishers’ Association, the Women’s Institute, Island Trails, the Rural Beautification Society, the Island Nature Trust and others supported  us.

Many hands and many minds have worked to reach this day.  I want to pay particular tribute to our small working group. We have met almost weekly for 2 ½ years, written thousands of e-mails and attended endless meetings.

Laurie McBurney, Kathy Kennedy, Cheryl Stead, Dianne Bradley, Katherine McQuaid, Jan Rankin-Collie and Heidi Hyndman are those dedicated and loyal people.

As well, we are indebted to our spouses and families for their interest, help and patience.

We also want to applaud Mayor Lee and City Council for their vision and courage early on.  Their support, along with that of both Government and Opposition Members of the Legislature, convinced Canada Lands Corporation to take a second look at the use of this beautifully situated land.

We commend Canada Lands Corporation for striking a Consultation Committee consisting of representatives from the City, the Province, CLC and our Network from which sprang the agreement announced here today.

There are only winners in this agreement.  The Bio-Science Campus, when designed well, will be compatible and will be a very attractive home for this concept.

The City will retain a valuable tax asset within City limits, along with having a green, impressive and memorable entrance to the Capital.

Canada Lands Corporation has fulfilled its mandate, both with regards to disposing of an asset, as well as listening to the community.

It has been a pleasure working with the Premier and government officials on this agreement, and in particular, noticing their understanding of the importance of securing preservation of this land in perpetuity.

I want to thank Premier Ghiz and Dr. Mayne and other government officials for respectful and courteous discourse throughout. It was a pleasure, thank you.

We look forward to continued pleasant cooperation as we work on the formation of the Upton Farm Trust. The full agreement can be found on our website at

In closing, I want to thank each and every one who helped in any way in accomplishing this great goal.
I hope that Upton Farm will give the citizens of this City and Province pleasure to the end of time. Let’s enjoy —–

“It’s Starting to Disappear:” Why We Must Save the Upton Farmlands

July 19, 2008


The Guardian

It was right there on the cover of the 1990 Visitors’ Guide to P.E.I.: a photo of one of the Island’s most picturesque, and most controversial, views.

It was land at Cousin’s Shore, where the Irishtown Road comes down from Kensington and meets Highway 20, and it would cause a scandal when it was sold to a developer only a few years later.

While looking at the 2007 Visitors’ Guide, David Sisam, a Toronto architect who has a cottage on P.E.I., noticed a particular ad. It was a photo of the same land at Cousin’s Shore.

“It’s a picture that is probably (from) about 1985. Because if they took it now it would have all these cottage lots scattered over it,” said Sisam. “It’s got to the point where tourist brochures are having to lie or misrepresent what the Island is.”

Sisam is one of many people on P.E.I. who say the government should have taken action long ago to make sure the Island’s coastal landscape isn’t destroyed by cottage subdivisions.

But this isn’t exactly a new concern. As historian Harry Baglole points out, P.E.I.’s governance has been marked by the land issue ever since the province was founded.

“Land issues and Island politics have always gone together, hand in glove,” said Baglole.

In the 19th century, Island settlers waged a long and difficult struggle against their absentee landlords back in Britain. Though they eventually won out and gained ownership of their farms, Island farmers remember the past and are still suspicious of the public telling them how to use their land, said Baglole.

“Pushing for enlightened land use policy in P.E.I. comes up against the same entrenched conservative instincts as pushing for gun control legislation in the United States,” he said.

But the push for policy continues. Last summer, Sisam gave a talk as part of the Victoria Playhouse summer lecture series, titled ‘Whose Shore is it? The Uncertain Future of Prince Edward Island’s Coastal Landscape.’

He may be a cottager himself, with a summer home near Malpeque since 1988, but he’s passionate about the P.E.I. land issue.

“People aren’t noticing, and slowly but surely (the coast) will end up like New Jersey if something isn’t done,” he said.
Despite a series of commissions, roundtables and reports dating back to the first Royal Commission on the Land in 1973, government has failed to create planning strategies to deal with the steady tide of development, says Sisam.

“It’s (a lack of) political will. Right now, the (provincial) planning staff do not have an adequate framework with which to plan and make decisions . . . No one really is saying what the coastline of Prince Edward Island should look like in 15 or 20 years. It just happens.”

It’s that lack of vision that frustrates Jack Saunders, manager of the P.E.I. provincial planning branch. He and his staff are supposed to set policy for land use but he said they don’t do much of it.

“We don’t have a plan of any sort that tells you ahead of time what you might expect to do. Land uses are established at the time of subdivisions,” he said.

The provincial government approves subdivision lots for most of the province, but Charlottetown, Summerside and 29 of about 75 Island municipalities have their own land use plans.

The Lands Protection Act of 1982 states that non-residents who want to own more than five acres of total land, or more than 165 feet of shore frontage, must receive permission from the Executive Council (the premier and his cabinet). The Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission (IRAC) is responsible for examining the applications from non-residents and sends its recommendations to the provincial government. But almost all of the non-resident applications get approved year after year.

“I could put in a tire-recycling plant or an organic farming outfit or . . . there’s just no control. There’s no zoning,” said Saunders. Being a planner on P.E.I. is a frustrating job, he said.

“The tradition has been the individual gets what he wants and the government’s in the business of getting re-elected, so they keep giving the individuals what they want.”
The issue of individual versus collective rights is at the very heart of land use in this province.

With no rules on development, people can do whatever they want, says Sisam.
“(Say) a farmer owns land on the ocean and he’s worked hard, and he says, ‘This is going to be my reward, because farming isn’t going well now, I’m going to subdivide the piece of property right on the ocean.’ And there’s pressures to do that, obviously. But without a vision for what the coastline should be, this just happens on a piecemeal basis.”

With the way farming has been going, farmers on P.E.I. are keener than ever to sell their land, says John Cousins, a farmer in Park Corner.
“We’re like the Piping Plover. We’re a dying breed,” said Cousins, who’s also on the board of the Lucy Maud Montgomery Land Trust.The trust’s mandate is to preserve the scenic agricultural land along P.E.I.’s North Shore by finding alternatives to development. Cousins sold the development rights to part of his land to the land trust, so he could keep farming it. The land trust has bought the development rights to about 130 acres of land between French River and Sea View. But the price of land has been steadily rising and the trust is having trouble raising enough money to buy development rights. If buying five acres of land or less, the average price per acre for all types of land nearly tripled between 1994, when the land trust was founded, and 2004. It rose from about $16,500 to about $43,000.The trust has been petitioning the provincial and federal governments for support.

The previous Conservative government all but ignored the land use issue, said Saunders.

“Within the planning side of things here we’ve always said we need a champion at the political level who would take it on and fight for it.”

The new Liberal government says they are now stepping up to the plate. The government will appoint a new Commissioner on Land Use and Local Governance before the end of the summer, said Carolyn Bertram, minister of communities, cultural affairs and labour.

“The commissioner will be holding public hearings and there will be lots of opportunities for Islanders to provide feedback,” said Bertram. “This is a very important issue for Islanders, and for non-residents as well, and we’re hoping that this will be a good step forward.”

The commissioner will also examine previous studies and strategies on land use and will present a report in 2009, she said.

It could be a breath of fresh air for a province that virtually ignored a 604-page report from the 1990 Royal Commission on the Land, said Douglas Boylan.

Boylan was the chair of the commission, which spent two years researching land issues before giving 232 recommendations to the government. When that report came out the people of P.E.I. were ready for government to take action, he said.

“Nobody likes regulators. But I think there was a sense that there was some
expertise needed,” said Boylan.

Boylan suspects that people still care about the land issue but that after the new commissioner is done his work, they “will expect a game plan.” Among the many observations and statistics in the 1990 commission report, Boylan and his team pointed out that there were thousands of cottage lots being created on P.E.I. that weren’t being built on.
From 1973 to 1987, 3,500 more cottage lots were created than building permits issued, which suggests that there are more subdivisions going up than there is demand for cottages, says Sisam. The number of cottages within view of his own, he said, has gone from five to 15 in the past 20 years. A quick drive around the P.E.I. countryside makes it obvious how fast cottages are going up. “It’s almost scary,” said Boylan, who questions whether tourists still value the unspoiled vistas that P.E.I. offers.

Cousins sees more cottages every year but thinks tourists do come here to see the scenery and the land.

“Twenty years ago, if you’d have told me how much tourism, and this viewscape and agriculture, goes hand in hand, I’d have laughed at you. But when you’re out here watching (tourists) in the fields taking pictures of my cows, or laying on the ditch in the road on their bellies trying to get the barley heads to line up with the sun out over the Lake of Shining Waters, you kind of realize, well, maybe there is a little bit to this.”

He said he’s come to realize how precious his land is.

“Years ago, I never saw the view that was here because I was here all the time, but it’s a little different now. It’s starting to disappear.”

A Concert on the Upton Farmlands?

February 26, 2008


 Charlottetown City Hall

On Jan. 30, 2008 the Council of the City of Charlottetown met with members of the Upton Farm Preservation Network.

The Council asked the UFPN for its opinion on the use of Upton Farm as a potential concert site. The UFPN was told that the concert, if held, would take place on the portion of the Upton Farm located on the north side of the Trans Canada Highway. (This is not the Beach Grove Home side, as has been erroneously reported in some media, but the side bordered by the Trans Canada Hwy and the Upton Road.)

The Council requested a reply from the UFPN as soon as possible, as apparently a decision on where to hold a major concert on PEI is very close to being made.

This was our reply to City Council:

Feb. 1, 2008

Dear Mayor [Clifford] Lee and Council:

After much consideration of your request regarding using Upton Farm as a concert venue our reply must be as follows:

1. Since the working group is only a fraction of the Network, it would be presumptuous, on such an important issue as this, to take a stand without extensive and time-consuming consultation.

2. The Network has not been approached by Canada Lands Corporation for an opinion on this matter, even though the first of a series of consultation meetings took place Jan. 31, 2008, and this issue did not arise.

In view of the above and given that a) the primary focus of the Network is the ‘long term’ preservation of the land as greenspace, and b) we have been assured the current proposal to use the land for a concert venue is a ‘short term, one off’ proposal, the feeling of the Upton Farm Preservation Network working group is that we should remain neutral on this matter.

Again, we want to forward our sincere thanks for the gracious reception we received, as well as for your expressed commitment to continued support and co-operation, regardless of our decision.

Standing together we can reach our goal of preserving the Upton Farm.

Most sincerely and on behalf of the Upton Farm Preservation Network,

Kirsten Connor

Sea Lettuce “a menace taking over PEI”

October 14, 2007


The October 12th Charlottetown Guardian reported on an environmental conference held in Montague. The environmentalists in attendance said that “sea lettuce is a menace taking over many estuaries in PEI and must be curtailed in the interests of fishing and tourism.”

Sea lettuce grows in nutrient rich waters and has a distinctly rotten egg odour when exposed to the air at low tide. Its presence indicates problems with the oxygen quality of the water. The growth of this plant is accelerating exponentially around our Island.

“Human activity is the cause and we need to address the problem.  It’s easy to say blame the farmers, but there’s more to it than that. It’s caused by residential influence as well,” says Dr. Andrew Trivett of UPEI.

“Residential influence” includes building housing developments close to the ocean’s edge where storm water can wash a nutrient-rich soup of fertilizers, detergents, and other household and industrial chemicals into the sea. This increase of nutrients, in the form of phosphorous, ammonium and nitrogen, is called eutrophication, which causes red tides, yellow and green slimes and slicks and triggers the growth of sea lettuce.

Sea lettuce growth can already be observed in the estuaries of the North River around the potential CLC megadevelopment at Upton Farm. Yellow signs posted by the Department of Fisheries warn that shellfish harvested there are toxic to humans. Fishers who work these waters transport their oysters elsewhere on the Island to be suspended on lines in cleaner water until all toxins are washed from their systems and they are safe for human consumption.

We ignore the “menace” of sea lettuce growth to the peril of of both our fishing and tourist industries, the life blood of the PEI economy. The proposed CLC housing development at Upton Farm can only increase the danger. We must look to our future, and save this land. The time for lining the pockets of the few to the detriment of our environment is past.

CLC Hires Toronto Consultants to Mediate Fate of Upton Farm

July 29, 2007


Jules and family enjoying the cool breezes at Upton Farm.

The Canada Lands Company recently hired the Toronto-based Canadian Urban Institute to confer with interested groups in Charlottetown about the best use for the Upton Farm property.  According to its website,, the CUI is:

“…a national non-profit organization established in 1990 by the City of Toronto and the former Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto. It is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life in urban areas across Canada and internationally. It provides contracted services, research and strategic solutions to important urban issues to private sector corporations, international development agencies, governments and voluntary sector organizations.”

Last week, CUI reps Jeff Evenson and Nicole Swerhun spoke with several local groups and individuals, including PEI Trails; Friends of the Farm; Charlottetown city councillors and planners; Catherine Hennessy; and, of course, members of the Upton Farm Preservation Network;  about potential uses for the Farmland.

It appears the goal of this consultation with individuals and groups is to mediate some peaceful conclusion on the fate of the Farmlands. The comments of CLC manager Ron Pachal in a CBC radio interview printed below indicate that Canada Lands has no intention of allowing this land to remain as greenspace for the enjoyment and use of all Island residents and visitors. It is clear the plans are to develop this property, even if it takes “ten to fifteen years to get it right,” according to Mr. Pachal.

“Getting it right,” in the opinion of the Upton Farm Preservation Network and its supporters, would be doing what environmental groups, oyster fishers, history lovers and trail walkers are asking; that is, to keep the property as greenspace. Unfortunately, CLC is only interested in making a multi-million dollar profit from this land. Upton Farm was purchased piece by piece from local farmers by the  taxpayers of Canada between 1948 and 1953  for a paltry $19,500. It was valued by Agriculture Canada at $1 million when CLC was contracted to sell it a few years ago.

It is interesting that CBC radio reports that CLC proposes a 20-house subdivision for this property. The plans CLC presented for approval to Charlottetown City Council and residents at a public meeting were for a 350-unit subdivision.

Was the change in housing numbers simply an error in CBC reporting? 

Or does CLC now plan to flog this priceless greenspace to the real estate market in order to build 20 executive waterfront homes; homes that would prevent the many people who now enjoy the amenities of the publicly-owned Upton Farm from access to the shoreline? Is this not a microcosm of what is happening all across this beautiful Island of ours? 

As has been said so many times before, our forefathers had the foresight to preserve Victoria Park for the use and enjoyment of future generations. Charlottetown has grown and expanded exponentially since that time. Where is the Victoria Park for the 21st century? It appears to be held for ransom by a Crown Corporation owned by the federal government.

Please read the CBC news transcript below, and please, especially note the comments of Des Lecky, a Charlottetown resident who walks Upton Farm every day.

“I think there’s probably enough residential land vacant [to build on] around Charlottetown.  I think if you look back in 50 years you’ll really regret it if you develop it at this point in time. There’s no more land, so this is a prime piece of real estate that should be kept for future generations,”  he says.

Mr. Lecky is correct; there are presently over 290 serviced lots available to be built on right now in the West Royalty area of Charlottetown alone. Do we need to use the Upton Farmlands, a beautiful piece of property at the western gates of Charlottetown, which was bought and paid for by the taxpayers of Canada a half-century ago, for yet another subdivision?

Consultants conferring on Upton Farm

Friday, July 27, 2007

CBC News

Canada Lands Company has hired planning experts to help it decide what to do with Upton Farm, a large green space in the north of Charlottetown.

Those in favour of keeping Upton Farm as a park would like to retain the views to the water.

The 100-hectare property was approved last summer as the site of a new subdivision, but public protests against the development have sparked a new round of consultations. The Toronto-based Canadian Urban Institute is meeting with interested people and groups this week to see if some kind of agreement can be reached.

“The fact is that everybody who lives in Charlottetown has a say in how Charlottetown grows and how the assets that are available to Charlottetown contribute to Charlottetown’s future,” Jeff Evenson of the Canadian Urban Institute told CBC News.

“What we’re interested in is how to talk about that.”

The institute met Thursday with representatives of Island Trails, who want to see the space remain green.

“We’d like to see a lot of trees there but still have it open, so people can enjoy what view there is down on the riverside,” said Tim Connor of Island Trails.

This dialogue is coming after Canada Lands Company got municipal approval to build a 20-home subdivision. The resulting protests prompted city council to ask the Crown corporation to withdraw its development plans.

But Ron Paschal, Canada Lands Company real estate manager, said the corporation is willing to take more time to consult.

“It’s [the institute’s] job to go speak to people and hear the folks, whatever their issues might be. That’s what we’re taking this time to do,” said Paschal.

“We had the approvals here, but we’re not going to have a bulldozer here or something if we don’t have what we think is a proper development.”

Paschal said the corporation is willing to take 10 to 15 years to get the development of the property right.

For people who are already using the property as a park, the only right development is no development at all.

“I think there’s probably enough residential land vacant around Charlottetown,” said Des Lecky, who walks his dog on the old farm property three times a day.

“I think if you look back in 50 years you’ll really regret it if you develop it at this point in time. There’s no more land, so this is a prime piece of real estate that should be kept for future generations.”

The Canadian Urban Institute said it will return to Charlottetown for more consultations.

CBC: Premier asks for delay at Upton Farm

May 3, 2007

This news report was featured on CBC radio today:

 Premier Pat Binns is asking the federal government to step in to freeze development at Upton Farms, a large green space in the northern part of Charlottetown. 

 The Canada Lands Company, the real estate arm of the federal government, already has approval from the city to build a subdivision on part of the 100-hectare site. It had hoped to start construction this spring.

But the premier has sent a letter to federal Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities Lawrence Cannon, asking him to halt any development, although he says the federal government may not have much say when it comes to decisions made by Canada Lands.

Cannon couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

Binns said the province might willing to help buy the land if a suitable partner were to step forward.

“We’re potentially interested here. We’re prepared to look at that,” said Binns, although he doesn’t see one arm of government buying land from another arm of government as the best use of taxpayers’ money.

“We would prefer if the federal government, having the dollars in surplus capacity, would not look at this as a revenue need for themselves, that they would look at it and say a community need exists here, and we would rather put our money into the development of green space.”

In the face of protests, the Charlottetown city council asked the company a month ago to withdraw its development application.

Canada Lands says it won’t rush into any decision on the future of the land.

Letter from Alex: “This is the Best Solution”

May 2, 2007

This letter from “Alex” was published on The Guardian website on April 27, 2007, in response to the news that the PEI Legislature supported a moratorium on the development of the Upton Farmlands.

This is the best solution – congrats to the Upton Farm Preservation Network for having the courage to do what so many in this community wish to see happen.

PEI has the lowest amount of public/Crown land in the country and every acre is precious. Upton Farm is a jewel at the western entrance to the city – the primary route to Ch’town since the opening of the fixed link. Do we want it developed, degenerating into an eyesore like East Grafton Street is at the eastern entrance to the city?

Too often, the small minority in PEI who are pro-development get too much press. The Guardian needs to maintain a balanced approach and do some investigative reporting instead of gravitating to the most vocal source.

The Upton Farm property is owned by the taxpayers of Canada – Agriculture Canada bought it for a song many decades ago and now Canada Lands Co. wants to make a bundle off it to pay down federal largesse. Ch’town residents have paid their taxes diligently to Canada for many years – we should be the primary beneficiaries of having this property become green space, not more urban sprawl.

And city council needs to start densifying the city itself instead of letting development travel all over the countryside. Build upwards and provide increased green space while providing a very clear city-countryside boundary just like you see in Denmark.

“Historic Moment” at PEI Legislature

May 2, 2007

The Guardian

April 27, 2007

 MLAs support moratorium on Upton Farm development

Charlottetown residents hope unanimous backing will lead to preservation of land as green space

The Guardian

Charlottetown residents who do not want to see development on a large parcel of land at the western edge of the capital city described a motion at the P.E.I. legislature Thursday calling for a moratorium on development as an historic moment.

Kirsten Connor of the Upton Farm Preservation Network watched from the public gallery as MLAs unanimously supported a motion by Liberal MLA Ron MacKinley calling on the legislative assembly to support a moratorium on the development of the Upton Farmlands for a period of no less than 18 months.

“I think it is the beginning of something that will end with the creation of a park that will be there forever,” Connor told The Guardian.

Canada Lands, a Crown corporation of the federal government, wants to develop the 245-acre parcel of land.

The southern parcel of land would become a major residential development while the northern parcel of land, next to the West Royalty Industrial Park, would be developed into commercial proprieties.

The proposal had already been given approval by city hall but since then city officials have backtracked on their approval and are now calling on Canada Lands to withdraw its application to develop Upton Farms.

Canada Lands is still expected to proceed with the development
and some see Thursday’s motion as nothing more than election posturing on the eve of a provincial election.

Canada Lands had plans to start the development this spring.

Dianne Bradley, a resident who lives near the proposed development, hopes that isn’t the case.

Bradley was also at the P.E.I. legislature Thursday.

“I am concerned over traffic,” said Bradley.

Connor said she’d like to see the land transferred into the hands of the P.E.I. government and have it maintained as green space.

CLC Says Development on Hold – For Now

April 17, 2007

According the The Guardian newspaper, the Canada Lands Company will hold off development of the Upton Farm until they receive a letter from the City of Charlottetown clarifying its position. The story by reporter Dave Stewart:

Upton Farm Development Up In Air

It isn’t exactly the moratorium some are looking for but Canada Lands Company has agreed to hold off on developing the Upton Farm — for now.

Gordon McIvor, vice-president of CLC, has told The Guardian that they want to see what the City of Charlottetown wants to do.

Last week, city council unanimously (Couns. Mitchell Tweel and Peter McCloskey were absent) passed a resolution asking CLC to withdraw its application to develop Upton Farms.

Council approved that application last August.

Now, Canada Lands is expecting a letter from the city.

“What they’ve asked us to do is to hold off,’ McIvor said. “(The city) is going to send us a letter clarifying their position in more detail and they’ve said ‘when you get that letter, take the time to read it and consider it, then we will talk’.

“So, that is what we’re waiting for now.’

McIvor said although plans were to start this spring, the shovels weren’t exactly going in the ground anytime soon, especially considering the weather.

He said Canada Lands finds the city’s new position perplexing.

“It kind of makes you wonder, why do processes get put in place if people don’t have intention of respecting them once they’re completed.’

Mayor Clifford Lee said the city gave all the necessary approvals last year and can’t force Canada Lands to stop. That’s why last week’s resolution asks CLC to withdraw its application and doesn’t rescind council’s original approval.

“The reason why we wouldn’t rescind last year’s resolution because that puts the city in a liable situation,’’ Lee said. “You cannot approve something through the planning process and then, six months later, withdraw that approval.

“If Canada Lands continues to seek development permits then the city has no choice but to issue those permits.’’

The mayor has sent letters to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canada Lands and the federal minister responsible for Canada Lands, all asking government to withdraw the application.

Charlottetown MP Shawn Murphy, Conservative candidate Tom DeBlois, along with city MLAs have also called on a stop to development.

Lee stopped short of saying council erred in approving the development last year but did say he thought the decision was premature. Council voted 8-2 last August in favour of the development, with Tweel and Coun. Cecil Villard opposed.

“I felt from the start that it was a decision that was probably premature. I think there is a major issue in that area in regards to traffic and the amount of traffic that this type of development is going to generate.’’

McIvor said Canada Lands encountered the same problem with one of its developments in Calgary.

“This is not unheard of where there is a great deal of suspicion and cold feet,’’ McIvor said. “We had a very good public consultation process, in spite of what some people have said. It was thorough.’’

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