City moves to turn downtown parking lot into public park
Councillors expected to vote Friday on whether to expropriate holdout landowner
City council moved to expropriate a piece of land for a future downtown park on Friday, despite objections from the landowner and the findings of an inquiry.
The plot of land in question is a parking lot. The city's property assessment map pegs the value of the land at roughly $6.8 million.
Through expropriation and other agreements, the city has been able to acquire three lots on the east side of 107th Street. The city wants to combine the four properties to make a 1.25 hectare public park on both sides of 107th Street between Jasper Avenue and 102nd Avenue.
"We've just given [people] another really good reason to move downtown, stay downtown, raise kids downtown," Coun. Scott McKeen said after voting in favour of the motion. "I'm really excited about the decision today."
The city's main argument for building the park is the potential to draw development in the area and to serve as a site for future high-density housing.
'You feel absolutely powerless'
The holdout landowner, Allard Developments, challenged the notice of expropriation, which was served in Feb. 2017. It argued the city should reconsider its plans, now that the Centre Line LRT is slated to travel through the proposed park and there's potentially other lands the city could acquire on the east side of 107th Street.
"You feel absolutely powerless," said Brad Clough, president of Allard Developments, following council's decision. "We wanted them to go back and relook at the configuration of the park."
When Allard Developments challenged the expropriation order, it triggered a review by a provincially appointed inquiry officer.
In their final report, issued in December 2018, the inquiry officer decided the city's plan was not "sound and reasonable" because it could not prove the last parcel of land was necessary for the overall vision of a contiguous park.
The city ultimately disagreed with that conclusion, with some councillors arguing the park can still be considered whole even with an LRT line or roadway running through it.
Coun. McKeen suggested the west side of the park could be used for active recreation, such as basketball courts, while the east side could be used for leisure.
"A lot of our parks have roads going right through them, and we handle that by slowing down the traffic," he said. "I almost think that was a legal red herring that got thrown into the mix here."
A 'playground desert'
The overall plan for the park started in 2010 when council approved the Capital City Downtown Area Development Plan.
That plan laid out a vision for a public park up to 1.4 hectares in size to be part of a "high quality, urban built environment."
Downtown Community League President Chris Buyze believes a park in the proposed location will bring the maximum return for the entire area.
"Part of the reason to acquire it is that land prices are going up," said Buyze. "We have a lot of developers who are looking at building in the area because the park is moving forward."
"Really the opportunity for council is to acquire it now."
Ian O'Donnell, executive director of the Downtown Business Association, said the proposed park would make the downtown more desirable for business owners and residents.
He said the lack of park space in the area amounted to a "playground desert."
"At the moment this is one of the most embarrassing parts of the downtown," he said.
Councillors and the mayor voted in favour of the motion by a margin of 11-1, with Coun. Tony Caterina registering the sole dissenting vote. Coun. Bev Esslinger was not at Friday's meeting.