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Paradise found: Mac creates an eco buffer zone

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If you looked at early photos of the McMaster campus, you might notice that it looks drastically different than it does today. In the 82 years Mac has spent in this city, the school has grown, more buildings were put up to accommodate the growing population, and the campus expanded to take up more of the surrounding area.

But in early November, the administration took a major step towards bringing Mac back to its roots.  The President’s Advisory Committee on Cootes Paradise (PACCP) announced on Nov. 9 that a 30-metre buffer zone would be created between parking lot M, on west campus, and the nearby Ancaster Creek.

The implementation of the buffer will mean the lot will lose 318 parking spots, according to the Hamilton Conservation Authority.

The lot currently has 1,400 transponders for staff and students, and approximately 1,300 spots. According to Gord Arbeau, McMaster’s Director of Public and Community Relations, the use of the lot is spread out over the week, so the loss of the additional space is not expected to have an effect on the availability of parking.

The area that is now occupied by parking lots M, N, O and P was the floodplain area for Ancaster Creek. It wasn’t until McMaster took possession of this portion of the Royal Botanical Gardens land in the 1960s that the floodplain was paved.

Randy Kay, a local environmental activist, said this change has been a long time coming.

“This is a very integral part of the puzzle,” he explained. “It is a huge, important piece of the larger Cootes Paradise recovery.”

Kay is the organizer of Restore Cootes, an environmental group dedicated to the revitalization of the area surrounding McMaster.  The group has been leading “Ponds to Parking” hikes since December 2011 to spread awareness of the issue.

Kay also submitted a letter to the University Planning Committee in March 2011 encouraging the administration to take on the wetland restoration project, but did not have any success at the time.

“I was a little upset, actually… when you send a letter to the University Planning Committee, they don’t actually even acknowledge they’ve received it.”

In the spring of 2012, after a meeting with McMaster officials, two city councilors, and the chair of the PACCP, the University agreed to take on the project, creating a specific lot M subcommittee, and their support “changed the dynamic quite a bit,” said Kay.

Although the agreement to the 30 m buffer marks an achievement for Restore Cootes, Kay explained that the process of working through the channels of University administration was not always easy.

“You’re kind of left in this one-way vacuum where you don’t get anything back. It goes into this black hole of administration,” he said of his early attempts to get the attention of the University Planning Committee. “I could see that being a barrier, for citizens and other interested people around the campus to get involved.”

As well as working with the PACCP, Restore Cootes collaborated with MacGreen, OPIRG McMaster and a group of “McMaster Marsh” professors. The professors have also been advocating that a currently closed portion of the lot be repurposed to become an outdoor research facility, to serve both students and faculty.

“What they’re doing now is the minimum requirement for today’s standards of a healthy, coldwater creek,” Kay explained. “Doing the minimum is what needs to be done… doing more would be great.”

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