“Don’t take Westporte Park” was the overwhelming response at the public hearing for a proposed expansion of Rainbow Gardens onto the park land.
Held in city hall council chambers on March 16, the public hearing was attended by more than 80 individuals, mostly Westporte residents opposed to the expansion and a few Rainbow Gardens representatives.
Close to two dozen mostly negative letters were received by the city regarding the proposed zoning amendment that would see the park at 5350 Russel St.,currently zoned as parks and recreation, zoned as institutional, while a 10-hectare forested city lot at the northwest corner of the Westporte subdivision would be changed from future development to parks and recreation.
Multiple letters and residents at the public hearing expressed dismay over the $163,000 selling price of the existing park, stating that it should be worth much more than that.
According to city planner Scott Smith, the selling price was based “on professional appraisal,” taking into account the plans to zone the parkland as institutional.
Smith added that while no design work for the proposed active park had been completed, he would estimate that its construction costs would exceed $163,000.
The proposed new park would have Georgia Street as its northern border and Golden Street as its eastern border.
A portion of the western half of the proposed parkland would be converted to an active park, with a likely road access from Oxford Street, Smith said following the public hearing.
Westcoast Native Healthcare Society vice president and building chair Derek Appleton said that any construction plans were still years away but that owning the land was a prerequisite for Island Health (VIHA) approval.
Until such time, the city and Rainbow Gardens have a memorandum of understanding that if the sale goes through, Rainbow Gardens will lease the land comprising Westporte Park back to the city for $1 per year, said city manager Ken Watson. The city would continue to insure and maintain the park until such time as the lease ended, he added.
Following the meeting, Watson said that a tentative agreement of purchase and sale stated that Rainbow Gardens “have to provide a lease with us until such time as they take out a building permit to build a seniors centre on that land.”
Watson said it was fair to say that if the sale went through, it would be a priority for the city to ensure that Rainbow Gardens could not get out of the lease and sell the land off.
The Ministry of Transportation also weighed in on the application.
Parking cannot interfere with Georgia Street traffic, the MoT explained in a brief. If the city chooses to have a road access off of Georgia Street, it must apply to the MoT for a permit and possibly construct a 15-metre paved apron to protect the road from any park related debris.
According to Appleton, the society is expanding so that it can achieve “a full campus of care model for Tsawaayuus Rainbow Gardens.”
A campus of care is a model where complex, assisted and independent living for seniors is grouped in one location.
Apart from the comfort provided by remaining at one facility, Appleton said that staying in one location allowed Rainbow Gardens to save on costs by sharing dietary, administrative and other services.
However, Sharlene Check, who works at West Coast General Hospital stated that WCGH had achieved savings by doing the exact opposite and outsourcing laundry to Cumberland and some dietary services to Victoria.
Steve Dupuis, who has lived beside to the park for five years, said that as both a parent and a police officer, he felt like moving the existing park to the proposed new location would greatly compromise safety.
The existing park has “great lines of sight, there’s nowhere to hide in the park except climbing a tree so there’s no areas where crime can happen out of sight,” Dupuis said, adding that it’s also well lit and constantly passed by anyone going in or out of the subdivision. The proposed park has none of those assets, he said.
David Ralla, a real estate agent who lives in the Westporte subdivision, chastised the city and Rainbow Gardens for their lack of transparency and planning.
Citing a letter written by Smith in January, Ralla stated he didn’t understand how the city would not be considering practical features like road linkages and the cost of a new park at this time.
“I’m curious, who practices business in a way where you would sell a piece of property while planning on replacing that piece of property somewhere else without knowing what the cost of building the same thing, with the same features, will be? The answer is no one, especially not a new council or mayor who have preached accountability to transparency.”
Following the public hearing, mayor and council are not permitted to receive any further oral or written presentations on this matter.
According to an amended draft contract of purchase and sale, the latest completion date of the sale is to be May 29.