Meeting Monday, members of city council's community services committee narrowly supported a compromise option for the former parking lot at Bell Park.
The option would see about 100 parking spaces maintained, with new storm water infrastructure installed and the creation of a new path leading to the park itself. It would cost between $800,000 and $900,000.
The 320-space, 3 1/2-acre lot was used for the former St. Joseph's Health Centre, which closed a few years ago. Since then, the city has been trying to decide what to do with the lot – use it for events at the park, or regreen it and reintegrate it back into the park.
“There appears to be two camps or points of view of what to do with the property,” said Ron Henderson, general manager of leisure services.
A survey of the public about what to do elicited more than 600 responses – an unusually high number, Henderson said. The responses were passionate, regardless of what option people supported, he added.
The city hired Yallowega Bélanger Salach Architecture to review the results and come up with options. Architect Amber Salach said a public input session that was streamed online drew considerable viewer response.
“There was a lot of passionate discussion and comments that came out during the survey,” Salach said.
The firm came up with three options: the first retained as many parking spaces as possible – about 220 – and minimal regreening, at a cost of $660,000-$730,000; the second kept 100 spaces and more extensive regreening; the third kept 10-20 spaces, mainly for people with special needs, while regreening the rest of the site, at a cost of $925,000-$1.25 million.
Ward 5 Coun. Bob Kirwan said there were a lot of advantages to maximizing parking at the site. People wouldn't have to cross Paris Street to access the park, and the parking lots on York Street could be redeveloped.
“I can't get my head around losing 100 prime spaces – that's going to be the one everyone is going to want to go in,” Kirwan said, of option 2. “I don't like giving up 100 parking spots to put some trees in there.”
He said people in his ward can't bike from the Valley to enjoy the park, so they would benefit from leaving as many spaces there as possible.
“They need the parking spaces.”
But Ward 8 Coun. Al Sizer took the opposite view. He wanted to allow only 10 accessible parking spaces and regreen the rest of the lot.
“It's a real jewel in our community and I think we have to bring it back as close as possible to a natural space,” Sizer said. “I really, really believe we should be looking at option 3.”
But Ward 6 Coun. René Lapierre said he would like to leave a significant amount of parking, but also do a major “facelift” of the existing lot. That way there's more parking when there's a major event, but much of the area returns to parkland. So he supported option 2.
“We need to regreen some of it,” Lapierre said. “I think, to me, that would be the ideal way to do it.”
Mayor Brian Bigger agreed, saying option 2 allowed for the creation of the path to the park, the stormwater management infrastructure, as well as a significant amount of parking. That protects the environment, while still allowing people to enjoy the park without crossing Paris Street.
“To me, the point of the Bell Covenant is for people to use the park and appreciate the park,” he said. “And if we have parking spots, we need to fix the stormwater management piece.”
But Sizer argued that this was a chance for council to make a statement about Bell Park and creating a liveable city.
“We don't have to be car-centric in this case,” he said. “We only get one chance at this, and I'm not convinced we need a lot of parking in that area.”
In the end, Bigger, Lapierre and Ward 10 Coun. Al Sizer voted for option 2, with only Kirwan voting to maximize the number of parking spaces.
Monday's decision isn't official until it's voted on by the full city council next month.