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City buys $4.1 million property with no intention to develop it

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A remote tract of land near London’s southeast corner was snatched up by city council for reasons that will become clearer over the next 20 years.

On Nov. 24, council approved spending $4.1 million to purchase 1462 Westminster Dr. (near Old Victoria Road) to preserve its woodlot and wetland as environmental compensation for future infrastructure work by the city.

“When we conduct an infrastructure project and we have to remove a sensitive woodlot or a species-at-risk, or anything environmentally sensitive, we have to use offsets,” Mayor Josh Morgan explained.

Morgan added that it’s a provincial requirement that municipalities obtain offsets when essential infrastructure work has negative impacts on the nearby environment.

He believes it’s better to have the compensatory preservation of environmentally-sensitive land be within London.

“When it’s outside the city, we are giving money to other municipalities to buy those offsets,” the mayor told CTV News. “This will allow those environmentally significant offsets to be here in the city forever.”

However, Coun. Susan Stevenson argued against the purchase.

Stevenson told council colleagues that there should be public input before a decision to purchase compensatory environmental offsets that are expected to cover 15 to 20 years of the city’s infrastructure projects.

“We would want to have a public discussion about that,” she warned. “Otherwise it has us not discuss the consequences of the environmental impact [of] infrastructure plans because we've already pre-bought the offsets.”

Morgan said it’s yet to be determined if the new public lands will eventually become an Environmentally Significant Area (ESA) or otherwise made accessible to Londoners.

“There is opportunity for the city to explore all of those options, depending on the sensitive nature of what’s there. But those environmental offsets will be protected forever,” he said.

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