Blue Mountain park too important for 'McCondos,' critics say

A public presentation was held Monday night in Halifax on proposed boundaries for Blue Mountain-Birch Coves Lakes Regional Park — an area an independent facilitator recommends should be partially developed.

Facilitator recommends allowing development along the side of some of the lakes

View of proposed Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Regional Park. (Halifax.ca)

A public presentation was held Monday night in Halifax on the facilitator's report on proposed boundaries for Blue Mountain-Birch Coves Lakes Regional Park.

Plans for the municipality to develop the park in an area between Bayers Lake, Timberlea and Kearney Lake have been in the works since 2006. 

The city would like to create a regional park around what is now a provincial wilderness area. But much of the land adjacent to Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes is privately owned. The Annapolis group is looking to build subdivisions in the area. 

That has led to an independent facilitator being brought in to come up with a solution.

The solution presented Monday night was to allow homes to be built along one side of some lakes, as a way to provide access to a park. 

"The mood in the room and spilling out into the hallways ... was one of great frustration and anger that this was being put forward instead of what people were hoping and expecting, which was an agreed upon price to acquire the necessary lands to protect those lakes," said Raymond Plourde, wilderness coordinator for the Ecology Action Centre.

Written feedback, not verbal

Plourde said the report never resulted in an agreement between municipal park staff and developers, therefore it was a failure and "so the report should be no basis for determining park boundaries."

Verbal comments from the public were not recorded as the municipality asked all feedback to be submitted in writing.

"A lot of people feeling upset essentially that they didn't have an opportunity to ask any questions or give comments. It felt very tightly scripted and tightly controlled and it was not a very respectful process for public engagement," said Plourde. 

James Boyer, who lives in the area, felt the same way. He called the report one-sided — and it wasn't his side.

"It only included the landowners' ideas. It didn't include council or the fact that the plan had ratified by council back in one of the regional plan," he said. "It seemed completely undemocratic, just saying here it is, you have to accept this."

Plourde said allowing homes to be built around the park would ruin its ecological integrity.

Our 'Central Park'

"The area is simply too important just to let it be paved over with McMansions and McCondos sprawling out," said Plourde, "There are studies ... going all the way back to the early 1970s identifying the Birch Cove Lakes as important linchpin area, ecologically speaking."

Plourde likened the Blue Mountain-Birch Coves Lakes Regional Park to New York City's Central Park.

"This is our Central Park. This is our great park of our city and in particular our councillors are smart enough to recognize green infrastructure is worth investing in in the same way as built infrastructure," said Plourde.

Councillor wants decision soon

Annapolis Group, one of the developers, said it was willing to sell Halifax 210 acres to help create the park, but at a price tag more than double what the HRM believes it is worth. (CBC)

Ahead of the meeting, Coun. Reg Rankin said he didn't want to spend another decade negotiating a deal.

"Some critics are saying 'buy the whole thing,' well when you're into it for $35 million — and that's not taking into account roads, public access for walk, bikes and transit," said Rankin.

Rankin insists the final decision rests with regional council and that public feedback will be taken into account. The councillor would like a decision to be made before the municipal election in October.

With files from Pam Berman