Greener pastures may lie ahead, as the future of Richmond Green was decided during a combined meeting of council.
Calgary city councillors voted 9-5 to approve Richmond Green land-use change and development. While third reading was blocked by Coun. Jeromy Farkas, it will go to an upcoming meeting of council for final approval.
Richmond Green is the city-owned 52 acres of land between Crowchild Trail and Sarcee Trail, a hotbed of community debate.
The approved plan will see the removal of two small baseball diamonds to make way for multi-family housing development.
However, an old City of Calgary Operations Workplace Centre, across from the closed Richmond golf course, will be removed, leading to more green space. A new little league baseball diamond would replace the two that were lost, and the old golf course would be converted into more green space.
There were claims during the public hearing about a reduction in park space. In reality, the project plans show there is a net increase of four acres.
The project faced fierce opposition during the public hearing process at the combined meeting of council. Twelve panels of citizens spoke at the meeting. Nearly all were against the decision to sell part of the green space for development.
Project hang-ups: Remediation
One of the hang-ups associated with the project was the old City Operations Workplace Centre. Although this site is supposed to transform into a green space, advocates against the project said that the area was contaminated and therefore required remediation.
Councillor Evan Wooley said that while remediation was required, it was a far less serious threat than it was made out to be.
“The site is contaminated, but it is contaminated with salt, not with poisonous, dangerous chemicals. The salt was impacting the golf course very little for decades,” Coun. Wooley said, when posing a question to one of the speakers at council.
Speakers questioned why park space is being used for the development instead of the OWC. Several said it makes more sense to use the operations centre for development instead of turning it into park space. They said it would be costly due to remediation.
Supposed bad precedent
There were other major issues people had with the project. One being the proposed construction of multi-family living spaces. Several speakers said these little league diamonds are vital for younger athletes. But most importantly, was the supposed precedence set by the project.
Bob Morrison, one of the speakers opposed to the project, said that this was an unprecedented move, selling park space to a private entity.
“The most alarming precedent is that rezoning allows for all parks to be carved up for redevelopment. Approving this rezoning puts every park and recreation amenity under threat. Saying no now will save us from those who think it’s a no-brainer to strip away park assets,” Morrison said.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi said in response that he opened two parks in the last few weeks. Century Gardens and Lois Szabo Park. Both of these parks were the result of a land swap with a developer and was unsure that this proposed project for Richmond Green was unprecedented.
Densification is also a hot issue surrounding Richmond Green. The project was sold as a way to increase urban densification and reduce sprawl. Many residents who spoke at the council meeting said that this was unnecessary. That densification targets had already been reached.
Coun. Jeromy Farkas asked one speaker whether they were convinced by the city’s arguments for densification. Liane Ellis said that densification was not needed in the area anymore.
“All five of the directly impacted communities already exceed the 27 people per hectare municipal development goal. The lowest number is exceeded by Richmond-Knob Hill, and they exceed it by 35 per cent,” Ellis said.
During council debate, Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said there was a lot of misinformation flowing around the project. He was concerned about how densification was portrayed.
“What I don’t think has been adequately addressed is the idea that the density is the death of the park. I would argue the opposite. Right outside where I live is Murdoch Park. A park the fraction of the size of Richmond Green. It is vibrant and has homes, commercial businesses, 4, 6, 12, and 15-storey multi-family housing fronting it,” Carra said.
Support for Richmond Green development.
Not everyone is vehemently against the project. Nathaniel Schmidt spoke in favour of the multi-family housing – not necessarily the green space.
“You start to see a pattern with things like the guidebook and other municipal projects that look at increasing density. People say it is going to change the character of the neighbourhood. It is going to affect house prices,” Schmidt said.
Although Schmidt said that he doesn’t agree with the project completely, there are still positives associated. The project ideally is creating more park space than is already there. While concerns about precedent aren’t something that should be worried about
“If the city went into an area like Confederation Park and said ‘we’re going to sell this off’ that would be political suicide. I can’t see this becoming a regular thing, and Richmond Green is a very specific situation. It’s just fearmongering.”
Although a decision was made, the project still has a lot of work to be done. That includes going back to community members and stakeholders.
Council approved the creation of an engagement plan with a motion arising from the debate.