A development company that owns land within the boundaries of the proposed Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes Regional Park is defending its stake on the land after an angry public meeting in Halifax earlier this week.
A facilitator's report about the park was presented at the Future Inn near the Bayer's Lake shopping district on Monday.
The report was intended to clarify how the city would develop a regional park adjacent to the Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area in the Timberlea area. But 529 hectares of the land is privately owned by two companies: the Annapolis Group and the Stevens Group, which runs a quarry in the area.
'A gong show'
The meeting was "a gong show," according to Raymond Plourde, the Wilderness Coordinator with the Ecology Action Centre. "It was the worst public meeting I've ever attended."
He criticized the running of the meeting, that the room was too small for everyone who wanted to be there and that people weren't allowed to ask questions. Boos and calls of "shame" were heard in the meeting, he said.
But Plourde saved his real anger for the report written by the facilitator, Justice Heather Robertson.
"The facilitator … sided with the developers," he said. "She suggested that the only way to create a park is to have a massive, sprawling suburb all around the Birch Cove Lakes, which is what the developers want, right up against the wilderness area."
A conceptual boundary
"Communities can be built in parks, or coexist with parks," said Scott Stevens, the vice-president of the Stevens Group, to CBC's Mainstreet Halifax.
His company owns approximately 42 hectares of the land in question — and has done for more than 50 years.
"The proposed park is a conceptual boundary the HRM used when they were doing their long-term planning. It didn't preclude that the lands would be available for development. The lands have been available for development for 30 years," he said.
Ready for secondary planning
One of the company's engineers, Mark VanZeumeren, sees this report as only the beginning of a more public planning process.
"We've basically done the first step, which is to set aside the property that's most important... that is [the] park," he said. "And now we can go into a secondary planning process and say, 'Is there any more park land that's going to be needed? And how should the land be developed?"
He argues that all the infrastructure developed in the region — the water, sewer, and transit services — are nearby.
"It's come up to the boundaries anticipating that land."
A park to 'be proud of'
In one proposed scenario, the Halifax Regional Municpality might purchase a parcel of the developers's land for the park appraised at $2.8 million. It has been offered at a cost of $6 million.
"What we've set aside is the most valuable," said VanZeumeren. "We're open to a third-party appraisal."
Stevens said there are other ways to come to an agreement on what is park land and what's not.
"[We] have been long-term holders of this land," Stevens said.
"Our goal is to have a development that we can be proud of, that will be part of the community that will include parks and will be an asset to the wilderness park."
'This report should be scrapped'
Plourde suggests the process has gotten off on the wrong foot.
"This report should be scrapped, it is no basis to move forward on either a park boundary or any consideration of development in that area," he said.
"No development should be allowed. The city needs to acquire these lands that it said it would. Councillors need to wrap their minds around the fact that green infrastructure is worth investing in and people want to see that investment in this place."