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Parish reps set to vote on Canterbury Hills land sale

Tentative conservation authority deal retains diocese’s access to property

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

Anglican Diocese of Niagara parish representatives are expected to vote early next month whether to sell 25 hectares of environmentally sensitive land in the Dundas Valley to the Hamilton Conservation Authority.

Canon Christyn Perkons said both parties are excited about the proposed sale, but she doesn’t want to assume those attending an April 5 synod will agree to part with most of the property at the Canterbury Hills Conference Centre and Camp.

While “certainly not a done deal for either side yet,” the sale would include an access agreement allowing the diocese to keep using the Lions Club Road land and a small cluster of cabins and campsites.

The church would also retain two properties of about two hectares each. One is home to a summer camp, outdoor education centre, pool and playing field; the other houses a conference centre.

“We’re still in negotiation, hoping to finalize, but I think we’re as excited about the possibilities and the benefits as HCA is,” Perkons said. “People certainly love Canterbury Hills, and that piece of property and the camp itself have been profoundly important to the people in this diocese,” she said.

“The fact that we’ll continue to use it in the same way will be something that people appreciate, but how they’ll actually vote I wouldn’t want to presume.”

According to a report in the diocese’s January issue of the Niagara Anglican, Canterbury Hills has run deficits for the past five years and the red ink reached an all-time high of more than $400,000 in 2013.

Perkons said the deficit is the result of a change in the diocese’s funding formula for Canterbury Hills, but isn’t driving the proposed sale – or, in her view, the purchase by the authority.

“They need access to a (wildlife) corridor and that land will give them a corridor all the way through where there’s an interruption right now,” she said.

Chris Firth-Eagland, the authority’s chief administrative officer, said the tentative sale agreement is being reviewed by his agency’s lawyers and should be finalized in time for the synod vote.

“They’ve been good stewards,” he said of the diocese. “The land is very desirable from an ecological perspective because of how they’ve managed the land, so with this agreement we’ll be able to jointly manage the land that’s beneficial to both.”

The sale became possible after the Niagara Escarpment Commission concluded that severing the 25 hectares meets planning policies for the area and “is in the public interest.”

Escarpment protection area policies only allow such severances if no new building lots are created.

A commission staff report agreed with the authority that the plan adheres to those rules because both remaining church properties already have buildings and will be subject to development controls should any new structures or works be proposed.

The report also noted NEC policies allow for a severance “as part of the acquisition of lands by a public body.”

Canterbury Hills’ future was put in doubt three years ago when it issued a financial appeal because of the phasing out of an annual subsidy from the diocese for its summer camp.

It sits next door to a 13-hectare authority property that houses Maplewood Hall, a former outdoor education centre that is expected to be demolished this summer as part of a plan to return the site to nature.

Firth-Eagland said the authority has wanted to acquire the Canterbury Hills land, which is traversed by Sulphur Creek and would become part of the Dundas Valley Conservation Area, for two decades.

“What a wonderful outcome for everybody. It helps keep the programming; everybody still gets to use the land as they did before,” he said. “There’s no downside to it.”

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