Letters: Parks and open space for everyone needed in town centre

Gail Hall lists reasons why park should remain as is

If the proposal to allow a bike skills park on John Phillips Memorial Park gets the green light from Mayor Milne and his council, one question will have to be answered.That question is simply this: ‘What is driving this process?

Not since the former council and their determination to have a 21-year deal with EPCOR, have we seen a process as biased, as mismanaged, and as inexplicable as the one before us.  Our elected representatives cannot bring themselves to say or do anything that might have a negative tinge, without apologizing and assuring the proponents that they have 100 per cent support from council.

For some of us  the situation has a strange background. Rezoning of the golf course property was sought in 2003, 2004 and 2005. Opposition was united, with public hearings having the largest attendance of any ever held in Sooke. Finally, approval was granted for a residential subdivision on the south side of Otter Point Road, with a parkland dedication of the land on the north side. In order for the development to proceed, the removal of a 1983 covenant was required. The covenant reserved the lands for recreational activities,  such as golf courses, archery ranges, race tracks, and the like. There is no question that removal of the covenant was fought long and hard by a strong majority. In April, 2005, by a vote of four to three, the covenant was lifted.

Former mayor, Janet Evans, spoke of the difficult decision, and said her vote was determined by our need to have parks and open space in the town core; that this was an opportunity to acquire 19 acres without cost; and it would become our Stanley Park. Today as we look back, it seems clear that without the strong and unyielding opposition, there would be no John Phillips Park.  The developers would have given the required five per cent, likely along Nott Brook on the south side, and the rest would have residential zoning on it. It pays to remember that the removed covenant was a recreation covenant.

In August, 2005, council passed a resolution to forward an application to the province for a Live Sites Program grant for the creation of a public space for the park; and to contact Small and Rossell Landscape Architects to see if they would provide a preliminary landscape plan to attach to the application, for a cost of no more than $2,000. Thus the plan that is being used today, dated November, 2006, was prepared simply to present to the province in an effort to win a grant for the park. At the same August meeting, members of the John Phillips Memorial Park Trust Committee were appointed. One appointed member voiced her concern as to the role of the committee, in light of the hiring of a consultant to prepare a design for the 2010 Olympic grant application.  In November, 2006, council moved to accept the report from the Trust Committee; to authorize staff to proceed with an RFP for a Landscape Architect for the Park; and for council to include the Parents for Play Water Park in the design for the park. That was the only project named in the resolution.

With the exception of Open Houses for the Parks and Trails Plan, and for the OCP, the subject of John Phillips Memorial Park never came to the public until March 26, 2012, when it suddenly became the most urgent piece of business this council ever encountered. It is not possible to detail the problems with the process that has followed. It has been nothing but inexplicable. Staff has proudly presented both the Parks and Trails Master Plan and the Official Community Plan as supporting the bike park. There are enough non-supportive statements in both documents to negate the claims made by staff. As an example, in the Parks and Trails Plan this statement is made with reference to the conceptual plan put forth by the Trust Committee: ‘The completed conceptual plan should be reviewed and plans for the park confirmed.’ That is all we ask!

On Oct. 9, 2012, council voted to enter into a Licence of Occupation Agreement with the Sooke Bike Club, a move that was rescinded on Oct. 22, with a great deal of apologetic verbiage, and a guarantee that the bike park was still a go, once the process was laundered. The Licence of Occupation presented  on Oct. 9, was not a valid document. It was a ’fill in the blanks template’, brought forward to keep the process racing ahead. In order to have the bike club provide necessary information, Councillor Kasper moved to grant them $3,600. It seems they were unable to provide information without the expenditure.

To this point, there  has been no application, no details of the financial resources available to the bike club, no information as to their affiliation with other groups, and no lack of certainty that they are entitled to our parkland and to proceed as they wish.

Once again the question: ‘What is driving this process?’

John Phillips Memorial Park belongs to those who fought for its preservation, those whose memory we celebrate, those who reside here today, and those who will come in the future. It is not an entity that elected persons can expropriate using the power granted to them by the people.

How many of those who sit at the council table today, would be there if they had presented the destruction of this park as part of their election platform?

Gail Hall

Sooke