What looks like a park, smells like a park, and is even dubbed a park might not be a park at all.
That’s one of the lessons stemming from a battle breaking out between residents and the City of Vancouver over plans to redevelop a playing field in (or as the city corrects, beside) Riverfront Park into a daycare and, eventually, a school.
It’s a move that has some locals worried over a loss of playing space for themselves and the projected future population in the area approaching 17,000, around the size of Squamish or Salmon Arm.
From the perspective of residents, the quarrel dates back to November when city staff proposed an amendment to the East Fraser Lands official development plan that would push a future daycare west of the 52 hectare development area and onto a small field at 3010 E Kent Avenue South.
From the city’s perspective, the date to bear in mind is 1989, when the site was zoned for an elementary school and child care centre. It wasn’t until a few years later that park board turned the lot into the temporary playing field it is now, staff note.
The city has good reason to move the daycare from its previously planned space, given that it was destined for a spot south of Marine Way where kids could suck in pollutants as they played outside. There is also an existing shortage of child care spaces west of the development area, and moving it a little closer to those families can’t hurt.
But the move would also free up room in East Fraser Lands for more residential development, contingent on a community consultation and rezoning process.
About 40 residents turned up to protest — a rare (if not first-time) activity for many, which pointed to the built up frustration, Howatson said.
“We know the city’s capable of getting creative and we want them to do that,” he said, pointing to an initiative by the city to put daycare spaces onto the roof of a downtown parkade. “We’d like to see the city get creative here and find a site in the river district.”
For Howatson, the biggest problem with the city’s plans is the loss of unscheduled play space in an area slated for growth. “We’re looking ahead,” he said, noting that although there’s a lot of walking room in the area, there’s not much open space for play.
That’s a point Park Board Commissioner Stuart Mackinnon agrees with.
“While it may look like we’re park rich in that area … it’s not recreational in the sense that you can play there,” he said, noting that much of the nearby green space is devoted to forested or waterfront paths and a golf course. And while the city’s plan calls for the eventual development of a pair of playing fields in East Fraser Lands, one will programmed, Mackinnon said.
Over the decades residents have come to use the space heavily, said objector Bill Grulkey. The space is now popular with neighbours, their dogs and ultimate Frisbee players, he said.
Even the city occasionally appears to treat the field as though it were park land; the lot appears green and is labelled Riverfront Park on the city’s mapping app, and an ultimate field is listed on the city’s website as being among the park’s amenities. Park board staff regularly cut the grass and maintain the space.
All that considered, there is little park board can do about the matter, Mackinnon said.
The city is asking for feedback from residents on the proposed amendments and there will be a public hearing in June or July, staff say.