Close to 100 people came out to a public meeting about the fate of 8.1 hectares in Westporte on Nov. 18—and many were not pleased.
“The City of Port Alberni is considering the possibility of issuing a call for proposal,” city planner Scott Smith told the crowd.
Currently, just east of Westporte are 68-acres of city owned green space—currently earmarked as future development in the official community plan.
The city is proposing that the western 8.1 hectares (approximately 20 acres) be developed.
To assuage concerns about a possible Rainbow Gardens expansion into the current 0.6 ha Westporte park elsewhere in the neighbourhood, any developer would be required to develop 0.8 ha of the proposed area into an active park.
The top 8.5 ha (21 acres) of the 68-acre plot would remain as natural park area, while the remaining southeast portion would be untouched.
Mayor Mike Ruttan told the crowd that gathered at Echo Centre on Nov. 18 that seniors’ housing was still a priority for the city, despite their dissatisfaction with Rainbow Gardens’ previous proposal.
“Council wasn’t completely satisfied with what we’d been presented,” said Ruttan.
“But that doesn’t alter the increasing need to deal with housing for seniors.”
He cited the city’s concerns over the more than 175 seniors living at home who need other care and seniors inappropriately housed at the hospital.
“Island Health is projecting a 96 per cent increase in the 75 and older population by 2034—that’s not that far in the distance.”
But while Westporte residents said they understood the need for seniors’ housing, the weren’t pleased with the way the city was going about it.
“You’ve totally dismissed the idea that moving the park elsewhere would endanger our children,” one Westporte resident told Ruttan.
“Do you want to be the council that pulled down this great forest?” another resident asked to applause from the audience.
Drainage was also a concern, with residents in the area telling the city that “groundwater is a serious problem in the winter.”
“I don’t see how it would be possible for the city to redo all of the drainage system in the area,” said a resident.
Smith assured residents that any development of the 8.1 ha would require a storm water management plan and “cannot increase past pre-development levels.”
Questions were also asked of why a seniors’ facility couldn’t go anywhere in South Port, where empty land is available, or at the former high school site on Burde Street.
“There’s tons of land available to be developed in South Port… I really don’t get why we’re going out into the middle of the bush?”
This is the second time this year that the city has grappled publicly with what the right course of action should be for Westporte.
In December, Rainbow Gardens proposed an expansion of their seniors’ facility into the neighbouring Westporte Park.
Their proposal would have required the city to sell the park to Rainbow Gardens.
The sale was panned by Westporte residents, who took issue with almost everything to do with the sale—the mere $163,000 Rainbow Gardens would pay, the safety of a proposed replacement park to the northeast of the current one, and the fact that many of the residents moved to the neighbourhood specifically for the existing park.
This time however, Rainbow Gardens board member Daniel Watts said that despite a community notice sent out to Westporte residents by the City of Port Alberni mentioning a “possible sale of park space to Rainbow Gardens,” no new proposals had been sent forth from the seniors facility.
Coun. Sharie Minions, who sits of the city’s Rainbow Gardens committee, confirmed that Rainbow Gardens was only informed of the public meeting approximately a week ahead of time.
Didn’t make it to the meeting but want your opinion heard? Visit http://www.portalberni.ca/public-surveys and fill out the city’s survey.