Park/trail swap ‘awesome trade’: council

Park/trail swap 'awesome trade': council

North Cowichan will exchange a piece of undeveloped land on Regina Drive for a long, wide walking trail connecting the street to Lakes Road.

The decision came at the end of a long discussion that included an extended explanation of the deal by planner Bruce Green, protests about the idea from nearby residents, a short presentation by the proponent, Greg Adams, and finally a series of comments from councillors.

Several of them said they had been up to the site to see the land in question and admitted they had trouble identifying what was park and what was not, with the most attractive piece of land lying outside its boundaries.

Coun. Kate Marsh said she had gone up there with "an open mind" but discovered that the supposedly cherished piece of parkland "doesn’t look that cherished".

She said that a good quality, well maintained trail would be far more of an asset as well as offering another way to connect around the area.

She also said that, while the residents who spoke were against the idea, her own long experience had shown her that "people that are for something don’t always show up."

Coun. Maeve Maguire also admitted that she’d discovered the reality of the parkland didn’t live up to her expectations.

"This is an awesome trade," she said.

Coun. Al Siebring had been one of the councillors who had been uncomfortable back in May with even attempting the swap but said, "I’m not uncomfortable any more."

He also pointed out to the crowd that just because the person wanting to split his lot in two was a developer, it didn’t follow that the park swap would open the door to more development.

Mayor Jon Lefebure echoed that sentiment.

"This is a land use decision. It’s not about who you like and who you don’t like," he said, adding that he considered it "a decision for the greater community."

Lefebure also said he was "always leery of people who ‘speak for their community.’ In my experience, that’s not been the case," he said.

"I see a great proposal for a trail."

The only councillor to vote against the idea was Rob Douglas, and he said that while "the proposal on paper is really sound" he was "struggling" because of the amount of opposition from the neighbours.

The property owners nearby had tried to sway councillors by claiming the parkland was of too much importance to give away.

"Once exchanged it is lost forever," said Suzanne Thur, a sentiment echoed by other opponents. Larry White called for creation of "an active play space" because young families were moving into the area.

"We don’t need another trail," he said, repeating a frequent theme.

Others were unhappy that their opposition as a neighbourhood was being pushed to one side and still others argued that Lakes Road is now so busy that not many people would use a walking trail that ended on it.

Adams himself said all the concern about the supposed park was "a non issue."

The piece of land in question is only 1,500 metres, just an overgrown buffer zone whereas the traded land would give the community 2,500 metres of useful attractive trail.

He told council that he’s subdividing his big lot for personal reasons, because his children have moved out and he and his wife want a different home on a smaller piece of land.

He also said that some of the personal attacks he and his family have endured because of the proposal have been "offensive," a sentiment that was shared by Marsh, who said she was "saddened by some of the remarks I’ve heard today."

Outside council chambers after the decision, Adams shared a brief comment saying, "I’m looking forward to all our neighbours being able to enjoy this trail, especially the people from Lakes Road who can walk up to quieter areas so it’s safer for them and their children."

Cowichan Valley Citizen