Citizens on Calgary’s west side just want the park they were promised, oh… about 20 years ago.
Clearwater Park, one of three Enmax Legacy parks promised by then-mayor Dave Bronconnier back in 2003 won’t be realized – in fact, it’s been turned into a storm pond.
This comes after last week’s news that the Haskayne Legacy Park lacks access to a green space that has most of the infrastructure built in.
Doug Leighton, chair of the planning committee for the Discovery Ridge Community Association, said they were assured in 2016 that the park would go ahead.
“Then we were later told the park would be delayed, but it’s going to happen,” he told LiveWire Calgary.
“So, we were stunned this year to find that it’s effectively been cancelled.”
The park has actually been on the city’s books since 1994. It was part of the 1994 Urban Parks Master Plan adopted by the city.
Leighton said Discovery Ridge residents were confused why, after years of consultation, public hearings, environmental studies and the work of a landscape architect from Vancouver, the project would be shelved. And it was done without any consultation.
Park space in the area is already in high demand, said Leighton. He said the neighbouring Griffith Woods Park is overloaded. The subsequent ring road work in the area has cut off pathway connections through the area.
“At the time where we should be expanding parks, and improving public access and spreading the load, why would you effectively cancel an important regional park at a time when it’s needed the most?”
Ring road land deal with the province
Nico Bernard, manager for capital development with Calgary Parks, said it was a confluence of events that happened quickly.
The economic downturn reduced the dividend paid to the city by Enmax, he said. That left the Legacy Parks fund short of the cash it needed to finish work on the park.
Meanwhile, construction on the SW ring road had begun and the province needed land in that area for the road. This was also the area of the pre-existing Elbow Valley constructed wetland park. That was taken out to accommodate the provincial work.
The city received roughly $400,000 compensation for that land.
“Then the idea was to see if we can replicate that facility within Clearwater Park, and it also benefited the province because they needed a stormwater facility from their highway,” he said.
Bernard said that they agreed to use the provincial funds to reconstruct the wetlands, which would double as a storm pond.
When geotechnical analysis was done, Bernard said they realized the water table in the area was too high. That presented a problem because if water seeped in from the nearby Elbow River, it would be like the city drawing water from the river basin.
Liners had to be put in to prevent the seepage. It then became a dry pond to collect stormwater from the provincial ring road.
“There’s not much visual appeal for the dry pond,” Bernard said.
“But at the time, we didn’t have the additional monies that we thought we would have for the additional amenities.”
Elbow Valley residents cut off
Brent Piercy with the Elbow Valley Residents Association, a community just outside Calgary’s city boundary said residents in his area are steamed over the development.
He said they were fooled into thinking work on the long-awaited park was beginning when the Elbow Park constructed wetlands were taken out, along with the archery park and all the area trees.
“It became evident pretty quickly that what they were doing bore no resemblance to what was on the approved plan,” he said.
Piercy said the city applied for the development permit through RockyView County. The work has resulted in a “racetrack-sized hole” in the ground, Piercy said.
“I don’t think there’s much in the way of plans for better landscaping or anything, but it’s now useless. There’s no parking on the site, there’s no trails. None of what was previously on the plans will be there.
The pathway cutoff is critical for the area, too. It was a connection point for Elbow Valley residents into Discovery Ridge. Nothing specific is in the works at this point to reconnect.
Piercy said at any point during the summer there are hundreds of cyclists along the Highway 8 corridor. Now, there’s no safe link into the city limits. The ring road presents an ominous barrier.
Ward 6 Coun. Jeff Davison said he’s working with administration on the vital connection.
“Both the city and Alberta Transportation are committed to protecting this connection,” Davison said.
The councillor is meeting with his RockyView county counterpart later this month to get the ball – and wheels – eventually rolling.
He said seeing how important the recreation areas are and making sure they’re connected has underscored the need.
Davison said he can’t go back in time to when the decisions were made. They can focus on how to correct the issue today.
“My job is to figure out how do we get a regional park that we want and desire connection to a city integrated pathway system,” he said.
One of those connections is a roughly 1.5-kilometre gap between the 69 Street SW bridge and Westhills Way. That could be the key corridor.
Both Piercy and Leighton want something done. The park resembles neither the vision for the Enmax Legacy Parks, nor the actual approved concept plan set out for Clearwater Park.
“I think it would be a good outcome to redesign the park to take advantage of the full area, accommodate public access, recognizing the parks overload and growth,” said Leighton.
Bernard said they could add additional picnic areas and other amenities in the short term.
“Realizing the park’s total potential and getting to a point where we can do everything that’s envisioned, I’m going to say could take a while,” he said.
“This didn’t happen the way any of us were hoping for. It was a combination of circumstances that turned this into not what we were hoping to deliver.”