Depending on the day and whom you ask, a patch of grass near Calgary's Genesis Centre is a beloved park, an overflow parking lot or home to a rodent infestation.

The land occupies 1.9 hectares — roughly one and a half football fields — and it has suddenly become a topic of controversy at city hall.

Plans to develop the land into affordable housing as part of the city's Attainable Homes program have been underway for years, but recently a group of residents has mobilized to protest the change.

They gathered outside city hall Monday, waving signs and chanting: "Save the park!"

Coun. Ray Jones, who represents the area, struggled with that description of the land.

"It's a gopher-infested field," he said. "It's not a park."

Genesis land

The land in question is outlined in this image that was part of a report to city council. (City of Calgary)

For area residents, though, it's a place to gather and play, said Gurmeet Bhatia, who launched a petition calling on the city to preserve the land as recreational space.

"In summertime you'll see kids flying kites, playing soccer, doing all kinds of things," she said.

The grass also doubles as an extra parking lot for about 500 cars, she added, when there are large gatherings at the Genesis Centre — a multi-use recreational and event facility.

"If those 500 cars didn't go there, they would be in our neighbourhoods," Bhatia said.

Genesis Centre overhead

An overhead view of the Genesis Centre and the patch of grass to the south that has become a source of controversy in northeast Calgary. (Google Maps)

Residents are also upset by what they see as a lack of public consultation, saying news of the project caught them off guard.

There were meetings with the Martindale Community Association as early as February 2014 and several open houses at the Genesis Centre between September 2015 and March 2017, according to a city report on the engagement process.

Bhatia said she and many other residents were unaware of the project until just recently, however, and she questioned the effectiveness of the engagement process.

Jones said, in his view, the public consultation was well communicated.

"Advertisements went up on the boulevards on bold signs. It was advertised in the Genesis Centre. It was advertised throughout the community," he said.

"I don't know what more we could have done, short of phoning everybody."

Protesters gather outside city hall to stop development of green space near Genesis Centre0:31

Council voted Monday to defer a decision on the land-use redesignation until June.

Jones said there is some discussion about expanding the parking at the Genesis Centre and he wants to get more information from city staff and the Calgary Parking Authority about what that could look like before making a final decision.

In the meantime, Bhatia said area residents plan to keep up their fight.


With files from The Calgary Eyeopener