New Brunswick

Planned parking lot gets mixed reviews from Moncton High neighbours

Residents of Moncton's Marjorie Street have varying reactions to news that the former football field on Church Street, where it crosses over Wheeler Boulevard, is being converted to a 559-stall parking lot.

Empty building will have new tenants, but development comes at the expense of green space

The former football field is mowed, but the fencing around it is in disrepair. Bushes have grown up around the playing field. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Residents of Moncton's Marjorie Street have varying reactions to news that the former football field on Church Street, where it crosses over Wheeler Boulevard, is being converted to a 559-stall parking lot.

The property was recently sold along with the former Moncton High building to Heritage Developments, with the understanding that heritage structure would be preserved.

The developer applied to rezone the area last Tuesday. The proposed plans call for the building to be converted first into a call centre and retail space and later, an arts centre.

But as residents living nearby are realizing, the transformation comes at a cost.

Ian Johnson said he walks through the former football field most days — and he'll miss it.

"There's enough congestion with Wheeler [Boulevard] that you don't need to be looking at more metal," he said. "I'd rather be looking at green grass than looking at a bunch of cars."

Stephanie Morton agrees.

Ian Johnson and Stephanie Morton were concerned about plans to turn the field into a parking lot. 'Use it instead of lose it, it’s not right,' said Johnson. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

"Not worth it, we need more places for kids to go."

A few doors down, 18-year-old Sarah LeBlanc can remember using the field as a child.

"I'd go there and play sports," she said, adding it would be better for the neighbourhood for things to stay as they are.

But other residents feel it's time for a change. John MacDonald's house backs onto the football field, and he doesn't mind seeing it converted into parking.

"I'm for any development around here, especially what they are doing with Moncton High," he said. "Glad to hear that somebody was taking the bull by the horns and doing some good development."

Across Marjorie Street, Mike Miller took a break from repairing his truck to offer his thoughts.

Mike Miller lives near the future parking lot. He said he's happy to hear the space will be used to help preserve the heritage building. 'When I look at the field over there, it’s hardly being used now.' (Tori Weldon/CBC)

"It's an increase in business and it creates income industry and occupations so why not," he said. "When I look at the field over there, it's hardly being used now."

But Candace Dugas worries about the wildlife that calls the field and surrounding bushes home.

"I know there's a family of pheasants that are in the field quite often and we see them in the park almost every day," she said.

She admitted, however, there is a dearth of parking spots in the neighbourhood.

"There are a lot of people that are parking on our street now from the [Georges-Dumont hospital], so there is a need for more parking."

Plans presented at the last city council meeting show a buffer zone will be maintained between the houses and the parking lot.

"The city is currently working with the developer and his design team to find solutions to firstly create screening and buffering through careful landscaping and interior parking lot vegetation," City of Moncton communications director Isabelle LeBlanc wrote in an email.

Moncton High's former football field will be converted into a 559-stall parking lot if the city passes Heritage Development's application. The company did not return the CBC's request for an interview. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

In recent years, the city has moved away from surface parking.

To the dismay of residents and business owners, no new parking spaces are designated for the yet-to-be-built downtown centre. The city also traded away a large portion of the Robinson Court parking lot for green space in front of Mountain Road's Castle Manor, writing in a clause that if the parking lot is not developed, it could be bought back for "fair market value."

LeBlanc points out that the 559 spaces, "are to be seen as a 'temporary use' that can easily be reconverted in the future."

She said the city hopes to change the way people travel, which will reduce the need for parking but said, "this takes time."

There is no clear timeline for the parking project, but the city says an open house will be held to inform residents of  the developer's plans before the matter is brought back to city council.