Saint John council voted to halt a controversial development strategy by the city to rezone and potentially sell a section of parkland on Sandy Point Road.

The parkland preservation group Friends of Rockwood Park calls the turn of events a victory, but spokesperson Joan Pearce said residents will need to be ever vigilant unless permanent safeguards are adopted to conserve the area.​

"I don't think it's ever going to go away," Pearce said of the risk to parkland.

"I don't know what we could do to get the park protected, but until it's protected legally, I don't know if it will ever be safe."

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Joan Pearce of the group Friends of Rockwood Park worries Monday night's decision is just a momentary win. (CBC)

The 4.8-hectare parcel of land off Sandy Point Road — within the boundaries of Rockwood Park — was identified as a site that could be sold to spur development and generate new property tax revenue for the municipality.

Planning staff were proposing a medium-density development with a mix of as many as 60 semi-detached homes and apartment units. Staff predicted the project would reap between $168,000 and $248,000 in annual property tax revenue.

'Move on'

But in a 6-4 vote Monday night, the rezoning idea was killed, largely because of a groundswell of opposition from Saint John residents.

The council kit included 280 pages of letters from the public — most objecting to the proposed rezoning — and an additional petition of 364 signatures from Saint John citizens who opposed the development.

"I lost count going through the pages, but they are overwhelmingly in support of maintaining 1671 Sandy Point Rd. as part of Rockwood Park and not making any changes to it whatsoever," said Coun. Gary Sullivan.

"We certainly have a very educated public on this topic. I think the council should thank our staff for all the invested time and move on."

Four councillors voted to keep the project alive: Blake Armstrong, Ray Strowbridge, Gerry Lowe and David Merrithew, who said "a vocal minority" was leading the pushback.

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Coun. David Merrithew says all the opposition to the proposed development plan comes from a 'vocal minority.'

"This council, from my first council to the second one I've been on, has said we were open for business in this city," Merrithew said. "Here we are … letting someone come in and stop this without going through the process we give any other developer or landowner in the city is wrong.

"Go through the process first. Let's see where it brings us. There will be a vote sooner or later on this. This is not where to stop it. It's unfair to the city, it's unfair to staff's efforts so far."

Momentary win

Pearce, who said she was "delighted" by the decision, called it a momentary win.

The city tried to sell the same property in 2011, but after fierce protests, Mayor Ivan Court's council abandoned the attempt.

In 2012, Friends of Rockwood Park tried to have the urban parkland designated as a cultural landscape under the provincial Heritage Act, but council at the time rejected its pitch.

"This area of the park [off Sandy Point Road] forms the beginning part of the wilderness area," Pearce said. "It's not developed, it's pretty rough, and all kinds of people use it for that reason.

"You feel like you're in the middle of nowhere. And the city has no idea how many people use the park. [Development] would be taking a piece of the park and whittling it away over time."

Rockwood Park has 890 hectares of wetlands and forest. Pearce fears any development on the Sandy Point Road property would open the door to further development incursions into the park.

"Even though it's a large park, it's important for the city to have it," she said.