Council gives go-ahead to turn former Moncton High site into parking
Councillor says city 'stuck between a rock and a hard place' in light of new information
Council voted unanimously on Monday night to rezone the former Moncton High School and its sports field to commercial use, paving the way for a new life.
As a result, the former sports field can be converted into a parking lot.
Council chambers were packed, with people forced to watch from the lobby. Many residents opposed the rezoning, with 11 people presenting reasons why the field should not be turned into parking. A petition was also presented to council with 386 signatures.
- Planned parking lot gets mixed reviews from Moncton High neighbours
- The future of former Moncton High: A call centre and more than 1,000 parking spaces
- MH Renaissance Inc. group feels snubbed over former Moncton High building
But early in the meeting, city planning director Bill Budd revealed the provincially owned field would most likely be paved, whether council approved the motion or not.
"The assistant deputy minister of transportation and infrastructure indicated that if this sale doesn't go forward, the sports field property will be used as infrastructure for the hospital and may involve parking," Budd said.
The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure could not be reached to confirm this, but Budd reiterated his statement when questioned by Coun. Paul Pellerin.
"So we're basically stuck between a rock and a hard place," said Pellerin.
While the majority of the presentations to council were against the rezoning, four people spoke out in favour of Heritage Developments' request. Mike Belong, principal of the former Moncton High School, was one of them.
He called the issue complex and said it's impossible to make everyone happy.
- Old Moncton high 'jewel' to become space for arts, culture and business
- Residents ramp up opposition to parking lot at former Moncton High site
"The proposed parking area is what we at Moncton High School referred to as 'the pig pen,'" said Belong, who was the principal while students attended the former school on Church Street.
"It was an uneven mud hole that was at times unsafe."
Belong said he routinely asked coaches to scan the fields for used needles.
But Lillianne Doucet saw the situation much differently, calling the field "a precious inner city green space." She rebutted Belong's remarks saying, "to some it was the pig pen … but to this community it was more than that."
Two men, Ross Carpenter and Chris Evers, spoke on behalf of Heritage Developments. They expressed the company's concern for an answer about the parking issue.
Evers said the school was built to last, with the cornerstone laid in 1934, "but unfortunately at the time there was no building code."
He said this is a causing challenges. Evers added that his company has until Dec. 15, to complete its due diligence.
"We have to be able to determine whether or not we can do this cost effectively and whether or not the commercialisation makes sense."
He named some issues with the building that will add millions of dollars in costs, such as removing asbestos, making the building accessible and fixing the extensive masonry. Evers said to make the building financially viable, 1000 parking spaces are needed.
He said Heritage Developments has a winning formula for choosing projects: "It has to be zoned correctly."
The podium was open to anyone who wanted to have a say, and there was no time limit on the presentations. People slowly filed out of the room as the meeting continued on for five hours.
But for those willing to wait, council voted in favour of the rezoning but added 12 provisions to the motion.
They included for example, community consultation, that drainage plans meet with engineering standards and that the sports field be paved as a last resort and only after parking on the building's lot is developed.
Leslie Tse lives in the neighbourhood and was at the meeting to oppose the rezoning. After the meeting, she expressed disappointment about the decision.
"It buys us time to ask how many more trees do we want in a parking lot? … But it's a parking lot at the end of the day."