Results of hearing

Here’s what I shared with Richmond council last night about the West Cambie Natural Park and viewscape legacies. My comments about the public hearing appear at the end.

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Mayor Brodie and councillors,

Right now it is too early to cancel the West Cambie Natural Park. That has become clear for several reasons.

In the Official Community Plan, the people of West Cambie get only a fraction of the city-wide parkland standard, and the one mid-size park that they do have in the official plan may now be taken away. That would cut them back to one little park, some school land, and a potential greenway.

Council meetings have talked about replacement benefits for the people of West Cambie. For instance, it’s said that they could have easy access to the Garden City Lands by way of a pedestrian overpass. A structure like that over 200th Street in Langley cost $3 million last year. An overpass could be good if done right, but at this stage it’s just an expensive possibility.

There could be offsetting ecological initiatives. For instance, I recently talked with two very able city staff members about creating a wildlife corridor along the north edge of Alderbridge Way. It would restore and enhance both a damaged Garden City Lands viewscape and the Walmart environmentally sensitive area that has been degraded. With ongoing collaboration, that can be done at minimal cost while adding city-owned parkland.  However, that still requires more-definite City support, along with dedicated community action, so it doesn’t exist yet.

In contrast, rushing now to turn over the West Cambie Natural Park to developers would hinder the feasibility of creating the multi-value wildlife corridor. If council holds off on approving the bylaw, the townhouse developers will have an incentive to collaborate, just as Walmart does. In contrast, giving the developers something for nothing today would weaken our position. It would also threaten the legacy viewscapes from the Garden City Lands, devaluing the Lands for community wellness and as a hub of Richmond ecotourism and agritourism.

The principles I’m advocating can be implemented even if you later pave the way for a townhouse development in the West Cambie Natural Park. However, I don’t live in West Cambie, and the local people need to be consulted about that. Richmond does meaningful consultation at times, but the supposed consultation about the natural park has been window dressing.

Most significantly, the city implied the key decision as though it had already been made and then limited citizens’ survey input to whether they would like the townhouse development with or without apartments. A few citizens ventured to write down unapproved thoughts, and the survey clerk simply rejected them.  Actually, the key decision has still not been made, and there is still time do consultation.

As I’ve mentioned, some very promising things have happened in this West Cambie Natural Park matter, and please don’t lose sight of that. Please do keep building on them—and let go of the unworthy stuff, starting by not approving the bylaw at this time.

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Besides me, Michael Wolfe and Derril Gudlaugson spoke on this issue. In effect, Terry Crowe, Manager of Policy Planning, assured council that matters like my principal concerns (e.g., wildlife corridor and natural viewscape legacy) would be addressed at a later stage. He is very capable, and I was especially impressed that he had visited the site recently to gather some key knowledge through firsthand observation. He would be familiar with the methods that can be used to obtain the wildlife corridor at minimal cost. Council simply voted to go ahead with cancelling the West Cambie Natural Park from the official community plan. There was too much at stake for the council inaction to be okay, but I did gain confidence in the likelihood of staff action.

Other speakers complained about losing huge profits because land-flippers in the know had bought their properties at park value and could sell (or develop) at townhouse development value. It was a reminder of the huge profits that rezoning gives to speculators, flippers and developers, when it should be possible to channel the windfalls so that they instead reduce the taxpayers’ burden. That could result in more City of Richmond money for conservation.

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