BY BILL PHILLIPS
Council was unwilling to issue a pre-emptive strike against a development that may impact North College Park.
Council gallery was filled to capacity Monday as residents from the College Heights area, worried about a possible housing development in the park, urged the city to use Section 30 of the Community Charter to dedicate the land as parkland.
There is no application before council to actually develop a portion of the park.
“However, due to persistent attempts by the developer to try and develop a part of the park, we feel that we must proceed with our opposition and require a higher level of protection for the park,” said George Church, representing a group called the North College Park Support Group. “We consider North College Park to be a valuable asset to our neighbourhood and think that it is work preserving.”
Church said no one in the neighbourhood knew there were plans to develop the park until May 2015 when a contractor showed up are started clearing some of the park and drilling test holes. Church said the contractor did not say who the developer was. He said “extensive damage” was done in the park.
An open house was eventually held in November of last year.
“The site plan was presented and it’s quite clear that the site plan would destroy all the woods in question,” he said. “While acknowledging that the city could have to approve the project, the developer was adamant that the city will sell this property.”
A petition was organized that garnered 735 names and was presented to the city.
Ian Wells, the city’s general manager of planning and development, said the city had talked with a developer about possibly selling the land. He said there is a process, including public input and a letter of intent, should the city proceed with selling property such as North College Park.
“In this case there was misinterpretation,” said Wells. “The developer went on there early to do test holes to see if the land was developable. It was a complete communication. It shouldn’t have happened, we put a stop to it right away.”
Administration will not be proceeding with any “disposition” of the park, said Wells. Ian Wells said city staff will examine the site in the spring to see what kind of remediation needs to be done.
The group urged council to use Section 30 of the Community Charter to dedicate the area as parkland, which most councillors were unaware of, and it was also something council wasn’t prepared to do.
“I’m sorry for what happened for what happened in this neighbourhood,” said Coun. Jillian Merrick. “It shouldn’t have happened. I think we’ve apologized for that. From my perspective of what Section 30 is, it’s a long term strategy tool. It’s about preserving a site in perpetuity … It’s not a tool that is a reactionary club for dealing with a bad development decision.”
She said she felt that using Section 30 more because of a lack of trust as to what the city is doing.
“I think the reality is that if we turn every area in this community into park where there was a dispute whether or not an area should be up for development, it would stall all development,” said Coun. Murry Krause. “I think you can appreciate that would be wrong for the community.”
Wells drew some guffaws from the crowd when he said “natural regrowth” was the best way to remediate the unauthorized work conducted by the developer. Coun. Frank Everitt, however, disagreed and suggested that some clean up needed to be done in the area, either by the city or the developer.
Should there be any further development planned for the park, there would be a public input component to any development.
“In short, your message has been heard,” said Coun. Garth Frizzell told the delegation.