Halifax riding school fears loss of parking lot if plan approved
Halifax Junior Bengal Lancers use Bell Road parking area for for accessibility, deliveries
The Halifax Junior Bengal Lancers is encouraging its members to speak to their municipal councillors about a draft for the Halifax Common Master Plan that would alter the riding school's facility.
In a map designed for the plan, the parking lot for the not-for-profit riding school that faces Bell Road has been removed and replaced with green space and its outdoor paddock — the area where the public get to see the horses in action — has been reshaped into an oval with what appears to be a sidewalk around it.
"What was released in that conceptual plan didn't match at all what we had been speaking about in March," said Angie Holt, manager and head coach.
"So it came as a surprise to us. Nobody asked us if this would work before releasing it to the public. And moreover, we were surprised by it and it wouldn't work for it."
Holt said the riding school met with officials from the city in March when drafts for the master plan were still in the works.
Then last week, Holt said a conceptual plan and survey for the Wanderers Grounds — where the riding school is located — was released to the public.
A Facebook post on Friday listed all the ways the proposal would impact the riding school negatively.
It said removing the Bell Road parking lot would impact the way the school receives hay and shavings deliveries as well as manure removal services because larger vehicles need a space to park to load and unload.
The parking lot is also accessible access to the stables for riders in the therapeutic riding program. Holt said at least half of those riders have mobility issues. She said a proposed communal parking lot wouldn't provide enough space.
The draft also proposes re-shaping the outdoor arena — or outdoor paddock — and separating it by what appears to be a public sidewalk by the indoor arena. This would reduce the size of the arena.
The riding school's position is these changes would jeopardize the safety of the public, riders, and the horses.
Holt said since the proposal was released, the school has met with the municipal planners and officials again to make them aware of the problems with the draft — but it's unclear what changes will be made.
"[Municipal officials] understand that they're not going to be able to make changes that will impact our operations that significantly. I think it was a little bit of an oversight," Holt said.
"We still don't know where this is going to lead to, but we're hopeful that whatever changes get made will end up being positive for us rather than negative."
The riding school released the Facebook statement to ease its members minds.
"A lot of our own members got very, very panicked when they saw the city's proposal because all they could see was how this would ruin their organization," Holt said.
"So we had a lot of misinformation flying around, so we felt we needed to put out a public post ourselves to lay out the facts of our situation."
Holt said she has a meeting set up with municipal councillor Waye Mason next week to discuss the situation.
Claire Halstead, a historian and representative for the school, said members have been encouraged to take the Halifax Common Master Plan survey to voice concerns and to reach out to their councillors individually.
"Councillors are the ones who are going to be making these big decisions and we want them to be informed and we want the community to voice their concerns and hopefully praise and share their stories," Halstead said.
On Friday, the school launched a campaign called #YourHorsesofHalifax.
"We refer to ourselves as the stewards of the horses of Halifax — because they're not privately owned, as a not-for-profit we all own them — and so we've asked people in the area, across the world to share their stories about the horses of Halifax and how they see that they are their horses," Halstead said.
"Whether it's coming to bring your child to see the musical ride practice or for a pony ride or many people come from the hospital, people who need a few minutes of rest by it with their children or as patients themselves. It's important we get these stories out and hopefully people will be able to feel the lancer love around the community."
Holt said the community is also taking the opportunity to see if the riding school could be given more space to expand its operations.
Halstead said an expansion doesn't mean taking over the Wanderers Grounds or moving the club.
"There is a parking lot that's right behind us that is currently used by city works. There's a functional building that could be shared, perhaps we could have horses in the main floor and offices with us and the city there," Halstead said.
"The expansion would be hopefully to take just part of that parking lot and to put in new horse stalls so we have more horse power and as well maybe a second arena so that way we can be running concurrent programming, particularly with our therapy riding and equine assisted learning programs."
Holt said the school has been operating at capacity for a while and said there is a wait list with about 400 people.
"We really want to be able to accommodate more people so that's where we stand," Holt said.