David Hartwick said the sign has become a bit of a laugh in the community.
“Last election, we took pictures of it because the sign is in such rough shape,” he told LiveWire Calgary.
The sign he’s referring to sits on five acres of vacant city land facing Country Hills Road NE where it abuts 96 Avenue NE and intersects Harvest Hills Blvd. It’s a weathered sign, tagged with graffiti, but the bright-but-faded pinkish letters are still intact.
“Future LRT Park and Ride,” it reads. (For the proposed Green Line.)
The cursive writing indicating the community – Country Hills – suggests artistic flair of the time period from a local developer. In a Dec. 9, 1980 Calgary Herald story, local companies Qualico and Genstar are listed as the groups developing the area.
We reached out to both to find out if this is their sign, with no response yet. In our correspondence with the City of Calgary, they didn’t indicate the sign was theirs either.
The sign has sat mostly alone for around 30 years, maybe more. Showhomes were reportedly popping up in the area around 1982. If the sign was there at that time, that makes it 40 years. (A quick update to the story after a reader pulled up aerial maps from the time.)
After four decades there are some trees, but it’s mostly grass. Maybe some native, maybe some invasive and then the odd weed and some rocks. It’s all summed up in one word: Empty.
The question is: Why?
In our initial foray with the city, we were told that the land was acquired for transit park and ride to accommodate future transit growth in the surrounding communities.
“The development of the land as a park and ride has not been required up to this point,” an email read.
When the Green Line team was contacted about a potential LRT stop at this location, they said work was only approved to 16 Avenue N. With no additional funding, there’s no specific work being done beyond that.
It’s symbolic of Calgary’s north end: Hartwick
The Calgary North Area Structure Plan, which governs development in that area, talks of a light-rail transit line.
“The line enters the area on the alignment of 4th Street N.W., and follows the major road connecting Beddington Road and Beddington Expressway. It is anticipated that this section of the line will be accommodated in the middle of the right-of-way for the major road,” the document reads.
“The LRT line would extend along the west edge of the Town Centre site and would serve all major development components of Calgary North including the regional community / recreation centre, the joint use site, the senior high school, the library, the health facility, the shopping centre and the multi-family residential development within the Town Centre site.” (This last part was added in 2002).
So far, half of those amenities are there. But the LRT is not. There’s no timeline for it to get there. Best estimate is between 10 and 20 more years.
“It’s a sign of the promises that the city made to this community way back in the 80s and the city hasn’t followed through,” said Hartwick, who is a community advocate and member of the Northern Hills Community Association board of directors.
He said it’s symbolic of how many in North Calgary feel about the lack of services.
The health facility hasn’t panned out. A recent temporary closure of the Airdrie Urgent Care left many in the area without medical help. It took until 2019 to get the green light on a high school, but Hartwick said there’s another school site that will sit empty.
The empty LRT lot is particularly irksome for him.
“I truly believe that the LRT is not coming to North Calgary within my lifetime,” he said.
“I do not believe that station will be built in my lifetime. So, it’s frustrating.”
This future LRT park and ride site first landed on our radar back in January of 2020.
It was during a ward tour with then-Ward 3 councillor, Jyoti Gondek. We skipped along Centre Street, up Harvest Hills Blvd and into Livingston and Carrington. At the time, Gondek deviated from the Harvest Hills path to make a quick point of passing by the LRT park and ride sign.
Bringing up the 96 Avenue / Country Hills / Harvest Hills location gets a rise out of now-Mayor Gondek. We asked her a question on it during a recent one-year interview as Calgary’s mayor.
“The greatest tragedy of all time in north central Calgary is letting that thing sit there and do nothing with the sign on it that says ‘Future LRT park and ride,’” she said.
“Oh, my goodness, the future will never come. So, let’s build affordable housing. Let’s do something. Let’s activate that land in a way that matters to the community.”
We asked why it won’t / hasn’t happened.
The mayor said she tried to make things happen as a councillor.
“The problem becomes which business unit has control over it right now and are they willing to let go of that control,” she said.
We posed follow up questions to the city in late September around the control. We also asked why prior attempts to make use of the land have failed. (We also asked about maintenance and who put up the sign.) We haven’t seen a response to those questions. We’ll update the story when we do.
Give it to the dogs
Hartwick said there’s literally one dog park north of Beddington Trail to service some 60,000 people. He said the communities to the south – Beddington and Huntington – have five each, with significantly fewer people. (There are 10 off-leash areas total in those two areas).
“The city has not designed the new communities in the north to be sustainable. We have to get in our cars for anything – including a dog park,” Hartwick said.
He said further down 96 Avenue there’s enough open land to have sports fields, frisbee golf, cricket pitch. During last year’s municipal campaign, Hartwick said he was told by at least two mayoral candidates that the city owns more land than most other municipalities in North America.
“I look at all this land along 96 Ave that would provide a huge resource for the community but there’s no incentive for the city to help us with that,” Hartwick said.
Current Ward 3 councillor Jasmine Mian is very aware of the vacant parcel of land.
“It is sort of a running joke in the area and, unfortunately, a very Calgary thing to have planned a parking lot for public transit, decades before you have public transit,” she said.
Still, she said transportation wants to hold on to it because there are plans to build the Green Line. Mian is also aware of past proposals to use that space. She said there’s a strategic interest in maintaining it as a parking lot.
Mian said she wasn’t privy to the details of why those past initiatives failed.
“I completely agree that I think there’s better interim uses for sites like that,” Mian said.
“Optimizing the use of our city land in the meantime is something that I have spoken with David (Hartwick) about quite a bit.”
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Just leave it as a blank slate
Coun. Mian said the nearby Aurora Business Park is on city land as well. Right now, residents use it as a park. She and councillors before her have advocated for other uses for that area, too.
“It’s usually a fight to get temporary uses on anything,” Mian said.
“Usually, you get a temporary use on something and it’s very difficult to remove it after the fact.”
(This very thing is happening with the North Glenmore Disc Golf Park.)
Mian thinks, in this case, area residents would be a flexible on a temporary use, because it means the Green Line would be coming through.
“I think people would understand if the LRT actually got to the north that that would be a significant win,” she said.
Right now, there are no community proposals to use the land, Mian said. She does, however, share the opinion that more needs to be done with vacant city land like this.
We asked Hartwick point blank what should go there. The answer: Dog park.
Then more answers came.
Outdoor rink. Ball diamond. Frisbee golf. (There’s even an x-country ski track down near Fort Calgary on vacant land.) Let’s be frank – it’s at least 20 years for a Green Line extension that far, right? You need something that’s easy to tear up, Hartwick said.
“It takes somebody within the city to actually want to do it. And it’s the same with every other plot of land until we change how we do things,” he said.
And while Hartwick bemoans the city’s nearly four decades of dedication to a vacant parcel of land in Country Hills, there’s a part of him that would like to see it stay vacant.
“It’s hard to say we want something for this plot of land. This plot of land has a sign saying, ‘future site of LRT,’” Hartwick said.
“If we were to try to do anything with a plot of land like that, that’d be like saying we give up and we believe the LRT is not coming.”