New Brunswick

Rothesay Common development disagreement heads into court

Excavation crews have started to tear up the playground and park in the heart of old Rothesay​ for a redevelopment project before the courts can hear an injunction application by one of the town's wealthier citizens, James M. Crosby.

Demolition work begins in town's central park, days before an injunction hearing

Heavy equipment on site at Rothesay Common Monday. (CBC)
In what appears to be a race against time, excavation crews have started to tear up the playground and park in the heart of old Rothesay​ before the courts can hear an injunction application by one of the town's wealthier citizens, James M. Crosby. 

Crosby wants the courts to decide whether a $2.2 million landscaping and construction project is permitted under the by-laws. If not, he wants the court to order the work to halt.

That hearing could take place as early as Thursday, but Monday work crews were already dismantling the children's jungle gyms while heavy machines were digging up greenery and loading trucks to take it away.  

Mayor Bill Bishop says contractors on site Monday continued to work on the project.
"The contractor today is on site," said Rothesay Mayor Bill Bishop. "And that's on the advice of our lawyer that they should continue."

With drawings proudly displayed across his town hall desk, Bishop explained what the Common will get for $2.2 million, including new drainage to dry out low-lying swampy lawns as well as a rock lining for the stream bed. 

The money also buys new pathways, a larger play area with new structures for young children, a revised skating oval, and a service building.

"It was initiated by a democratically elected council and followed the wishes of the majority of people in the recreation commission and we had open houses," said Bishop.

"We did not see that Mr. Crosby was actually going to go to the courts and crush the project." 

Crosby, the fourth-generation leader of the family-owned Crosby Molasses Company, declined to be interviewed by CBC News, but documents filed with the Court of Queen's Bench in Saint John show that he strongly opposes the construction of the service building.

Plans for the Rothesay Commons include better drainage, new pathways and playground equipment, as well as a new service building. (Submitted by Town of Rothesay)
Measuring more than 8 metres high, 14 metres wide, and with a footprint of approximately 1,700 square feet, it will contain a mechanical equipment room, garages, public toilets, changing rooms, an exterior performance stage and an ice plant.

Crosby's application says Rothesay Common is a special area zone, and as such, its permitted uses are restricted to a single family house, a park, or a playground.

The development has created a rift among neighbours and both sides have taken to Facebook. 

Those in favour, prefer the Upgrade the Rothesay Common page.

Opponents post on the Save the Rothesay Common page.

"We're a small village and we all have to live with each other," says Michael Edwards, a contributor to the latter.  "There are a lot of people upset about it."

Michael Edwards has concerns about the efficiency of an artificial ice pad. (CBC)
Edwards says the service building will be 137 per cent higher than the nearby Rothesay Medical Clinic and will overpower all the sightlines in the park. 

He also objects to the plan to transform the natural outdoor ice rink into a refrigerated artificial ice pad, that he believes will suck as much power as 30 homes. 

He says that's environmentally irresponsible and a lot of expense for a few extra weeks of ice time that will benefit only a small group of kids.

"For about three weeks at most of additional skating, that works out to about $11.5 thousand dollars a day for handful of young people," said Edwards. 

"We would probably save money if we put them all on an airplane to Toronto to skate at Nathan Phillips Square," he said.

The service building will also be able to power a sound system for its performance stage.  The stage is positioned to face the war memorial to reduce sound reverberation off the bricks of Rothesay Park School.

Rothesay resident Scott Thomas says he supports the project and hopes it will lead to more people enjoying outdoor arts and culture in the space.  

Scott Thomas hopes the project will lead to more people enjoying outdoor arts and culture in the space. (CBC)
"I used to do  Shakespeare in the park and it was very difficult when a rain would happen for a flat park," says Thomas. "You wouldn't be able to sit chairs in there because it was too wet for a week afterwards."

Thomas says he's struck by how often the park is empty and believes the changes will draw more families to use it on the weekends. 

"I think it's frustrating in our area that very reasonable, well though-out development seems to be constantly stopped by very small interests, very personal interests," he said. 

"I understand there are people who live on the direct border of the park and I certainly wouldn't want anything that would be a major infringement upon their ability to live quietly as well," said Thomas.

Thomas says he doesn't think basic drainage, a playground and the ice-skating rink would have a negative impact on the peaceful enjoyment of the park. 

"Rothesay does a lot of things right," he says. "I think this is in tune with that."

Mayor Bishop says the area known as the Rothesay Common was purchased by the town in 1934 for $2,600.

"Some people feel like it's just for a few people," said Bishop. "That property was purchased for all the residents of Rothesay."

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