Calgary

Highland Park group feels 'vindicated' after study confirms flood risks that may derail development

A water drainage study is raising questions about whether a contentious redevelopment of the former Highland Park golf course can go ahead in north Calgary.

Flood risks could be best dealt with by constructing $35M in drainage ponds on site, study says

Elise Bieche, president of the Highland Park Community Association, says her group feels vindicated by the report's findings. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

A water drainage study is raising questions about whether a contentious redevelopment of the former Highland Park golf course can go ahead in north Calgary.

The report, Confederation Park Regional Drainage Study, was released late last week and looks at the Confederation Creek Catchment, which encompasses nearly 3,000 hectares of land.

The catchment includes the location of a planned mixed-use, commercial and residential development known as the Highland Park Development (HPD) on land that used to be a golf course.

A Vancouver-based developer wants to build up to 2,000 residential units on the green space, which is bordered by Fourth Street to the west and McKnight Boulevard to the north.

Last year, Calgary city council approved the Land Use Plan for the proposed HPD pending the findings of this study.

The drainage study found that the most viable option to deal with the region's drainage issues would be the construction of two drainage ponds at a cost of approximately $35 million.

According to the report, these ponds would address potential flooding that could impact nearby neighbourhoods and the Green Line LRT.

'The community feels vindicated'

The Highland Park Community Association, which has had several concerns about the HPD, including water and drainage, says they are happy with the report's key recommendation.

"I'm quite happy with the report overall," said Elise Bieche, president of the community association.

"I think that the engineering firm assessed all of the regional water issues quite accurately and I think the community feels vindicated by the results of this report."

The study was commissioned by the city in 2017 and conducted by Associated Engineering.

But developer Ajay Nehru of Maple Projects says it's time the city makes some important decisions.

A conception of what the proposed development for Highland Park golf course would look like. (reimagining.ca)

'Going around in circles'

"I'm a passenger on the bus, not the driver of it. And it gets frustrating at a point when you're going around in circles," he said.

"If they decide this is the route they want to go, they can't decide to create a giant pond on private land. They would have to buy the land. They expressly say that in the report. They understand that and that in itself is a process."

Maple Projects purchased the former golf course in 2013 with the HPD in mind.

'No conversation about acquisition'

But, so far Nehru said there hasn't been any formal discussions around purchasing the land back from him.

He said until this report came out, he was expecting his builders would have to twin an existing storm duct that runs through the property.  

"There's a storm duct that's about six-feet by eight-feet — massive storm duct — that runs through, carrying storm water," he said.

"And to accommodate them we had already designed a 26-metre wide road that would cover both ducts."

Six years later, the report doesn't even mention that as an option.

"That's why, up to this point, there has been no conversation about acquisition, because it was never thought necessary," he said.

Community wants 'site sensitive' plan

Bieche says the community isn't opposed to all development on the land, but they want developments to there to be "site sensitive."

Maple Projects president Ajay Nehru says he is frustrated by how long this process has been. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

She said that means understanding that the area is a coulee, that there is a creek that runs through the site, that the site is constrained by underground utilities in a number of places, and that there are a lot of mature trees that should be preserved and maintained.

"It's not that we were opposed to development. We were opposed by the lack of sensitivity that was being proposed with this development," she said.

Bieche said the community would like to see a development that is a partnership between a developer and an order of government.

But, Bieche says she wonders how they even got to this point.

"If the original study was done in 2008 and if we go back to 1954 — a caveat was put on the title of this site that says it's not suitable for development. How did we get to a point in 2017 where our city council gave a land-use approval, what went wrong in our process?" she said.

Bieche said she also wishes that the study had mentioned how much the land is actually worth, and what it might cost the city to purchase it.

$300-million option vetoed

As a part of the study, four other options were presented as non-viable.

One of those options — slated at $300 million and deemed "prohibitive" — consisted of storage, conveyance improvements, and a flow diversion to the Bow River.

That diversion tunnel would be between four and five metres in diameter and would be at least 4.5 km long. The report says it would prevent an increase in peak flow rates to Nose Creek by redirecting a significant amount of flow directly to the Bow.

'Turns out it's a pretty big deal,' says mayor

The mayor of Calgary couldn't help but recall his opposition to the land-use plan for the community.

"I remember sitting in council and asking the question about drainage. Members of the community had shown us photos saying, 'after a rainfall in the summer this golf course actually serves as a de facto storm pond. It is where the water goes,'" Naheed Nenshi told reporters Tuesday afternoon.

"I remember that question of administration after the public hearing and being told it's not a big deal. Turns out it's a pretty big deal. It's a pretty big deal for drainage through a bunch of north Calgary, so I am not very happy that we took the process in the direction. We should have done this work prior to approving the land-use plan for that community."

He says the project, however, isn't dead.

"This is important stuff and it's very important that we get it right," he said.

"It will very likely require some significant modification. It's really important that we work with the community, the developer and the provincial government to figure what modifications to that plan needs to happen."


With files from Dave Gilson

About the Author

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary, currently focused on bringing you stories related to education in Alberta. In 2018 she headed a pop-up bureau in Lethbridge, Alta,. Her experience includes newspaper, online, TV and radio. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson

With files from CBC's Scott Dippel