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Report says ‘significant portion’ of Highland Park Golf Course needed for storm water

The final draft of an independent drainage study on Confederation Creek is now out and it recommends that a “significant portion” of privately-owned land be used to mitigate flooding in the area.

That land in the former Highland Park Golf Course has already been approved for development, despite warnings from nearby residents about flooding.

The long-awaited engineering report – which came out in draft form in June of last year – looks at a number of options for storm water drainage along Confederation Creek and Nose Creek – which runs through the north central part of Calgary.

Residents in Highland Park warned the city that the former golf course often flooded in the spring, and was a natural storm pond of sorts, but in March of 2017, council approved a plan from Maple Projects Inc. to build 2,100 units in the area, pending the outcome of the drainage study.

Maple Projects’ president Ajay Nehru, said he’s frustrated with the entire process.

“You have to keep in mind this is year six now of this project,” he said. “It’s a year and a half since the draft report was released. I’m still waiting to move ahead, one way or the other.”

Nehru said he had only begun to read the report on Friday, but one thing was clear to him.

“If the city feels that they need to have this site as a giant retention pond, then there’s no development possible,” he said.

The report presents four potential options for dealing with storm water from Confederation Creek. The preferred option has interim and ultimate goals. Its class 5 cost estimate ranges from $65 to $260 million, although that estimate doesn’t include potential land acquisition.

“A significant portion of the [Highland Park Golf Course] lands would be required for Option 4,” reads the report.

It suggests there would still be some land available for development, but that the amount would be “drastically reduced.”

A city official told LiveWire that it would not necessarily mean the city would need to acquire or purchase that land, and that the developer could be responsible for storm water retention.

However Area. Councillor Sean Chu said in an interview in February that purchasing the land was being discussed.

“Now the decision is where and how much – and how big the piece is if necessary to buy[…],” he said.

Another option to allow for Maple Projects’ development costs much more, with class 5 cost estimates ranging from $185 to $740 million.

Nehru feels the criteria and constraints that the city gave to the engineers set them up to arrive at this conclusion.

“If they had said, ‘Assume there’s 2,100 homes on here,’ Associated Engineering or anyone else would’ve found alternative places to store the water,” he said. “If you say to somebody that it’s a greenfield, why would I look somewhere else if I’ve got a 15 acre site I can use (for water storage)?”

Nehru said he hasn’t been approached by the city through any of the process and is still waiting for a call.

“This project has the potential to employ hundreds of people – it’s a billion-three, a billion-four in real estate development,” he said. “ There’s an ongoing property tax stream of $8 million, and tens of millions in fees during the construction. These are all the opportunity costs. But I don’t see any conversation about that.”

The community surrounding the golf course, however, is feeling relieved.

Elise Bieche, president of the Highland Park Community Association, said there isn’t much new in this report that wasn’t in the draft report, but there was always a fear that there would be a significant change.

“It was big win for the community because, while we were waiting for the final report, we were wondering, ‘What if they change something from the draft to the final? What if there’s political pressure to go a different route?”

She thinks there’s an opportunity now for the city to acknowledge that Confederation Creek runs through the park. Much of the creek was “vaulted” or covered over with culverts decades ago, and there has since been debate as to whether it’s a natural waterway or simply a storm drain.

Some residents want the creek to be ‘daylighted’ or reopened to run a more natural course.

“Confederation Creek doesn’t end when it goes to the vault,” said Bieche.

Editor’s Note: This version of the story corrects the date that the draft version of the Confederation Creek Drainage Study was released. It also corrects the previous assertion that the report recommends purchasing the land. In fact, the report merely says a significant portion of the land would be required for storm water retention.