CITY VOTES FOR STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER
BY HEATHER MCLAUGHLIN
24 APR 2012 03:25AM
Northside residents who want land at 49 Ferris St. to remain open space and agricultural land in perpetuity scored a victory in seeing their application go through the rezoning process.
City councillors Monday night agreed to support a motion from Coun. Dan Keenan, seconded by Coun. Steven Hicks, that the Sunset Strawberry U-Pick land and the surrounding city-owned acreage be rezoned open space and agriculture from its current R-2H (residential holding) status.
The citizens group lobbied for the land to remain in its natural state as an untamed park area for the Douglas area. City councillors rejected the idea of using the 38-hectare (94-acre) site for future residential housing development. In doing so, the city would be giving up nearly $1 million in annual tax revenue, based on the fact that site could house 231 units each valued at $275,000.
Three councillors voted against Keenan’s proposal at Monday night’s council-in-committee session. Coun. Stephen Chase said he has to look at the big picture for all taxpayers and wasn’t going to support relinquishing the potential future tax revenue. Coun. Mike O’Brien said the city has already spent more than $1.5 million buying land for the massive 882-hectare (2,180-acre) Killarney Lake wilderness park on the north side and there’s adequate park space. Coun. Tony Whalen also voted against the rezoning proposal.
The city also has the 332-hectare (825-acre) Odell Park on the south side of the city, O’Brien said.
But the rest of city council sided with the sentiment of residents who want the land left in its natural state.
“I am happy. I certainly didn’t expect that there would necessarily be full support. There are issues every time you take pieces of property out of possible development. There’s a cost, so people will look at that, but overall, council felt that the benefits outweighed the costs and I agree with that wholeheartedly,” Keenan said.
The Ward 1 (Douglas) councillor said he’ll be looking for the continued support of city councillors after the land goes through its rezoning process and comes back to city council for a final vote.
Keenan said there was some debate about rezoning the city-owned land to park, but the agricultural and open space zoning better fits the desire of residents to have a natural green area.
The city’s real estate manager, Calvin Thompson, presented four scenarios to council, including one to leave the zoning as is and others that would have included partial residential development of the site. Thompson also identified wetland areas in and around the Nashwaaksis stream and on another portion of the site that cannot be developed.
Less than 15-hectares, or about 36-acres, would have to remain open space since they are wetland areas.
Residents also support the continued operation of an 8.5-hectare (21-acre) strawberry u-pick business. Should that business close and the lease with the city ended, they suggest community gardens would be suited to the portion of the land.
Resident Alan Haines, who worked to gather nearly 3,000 names on a citywide petition supporting the preservation of the green space, said the group only considers it’s halfway home on the project.
The rezoning must now go through the planning advisory committee process, and Haines said the group won’t be settled until the process is finished and there’s a final answer later this summer.
“We’re pleased. The group put a lot of work into this overall, getting signatures and not knowing how the city conducts its business, but it looks favourable at this point,” Haines said.