Residents have sent in letters of opposition after Saint John council voted Feb. 20 to declare a lot on 1671 Sandy Point Road in Rockwood Park as surplus for sale.SUBMITTED/SERVICE NB SCREENSHOT

Saint John’s mayor says all options for housing growth have to be on the table as it goes through the process of offering up a parcel of Rockwood Park for sale.

The parcel of land at 1671 Sandy Point Road was one of four declared as surplus in a motion at council’s Feb. 20 meeting, with another put up in January. The land is located in the north end of the park and is adjacent to Harrigan Lake.

At its meeting Monday, council received five letters of objection, including one from Friends of Rockwood Park, which were filed for a presentation at the city’s growth committee.

Mayor Donna Reardon said the city has been working to identify and sell surplus land based on recommendations in the 2020 Ernst & Young Operational Audit as part of its search for financial stability. She said declaring the lands as surplus is a “permission to explore that possibility” and that the city would have to put out a request for proposals, which would be graded to determine best value and use, then come back to a council vote before land could be sold.

“The city needs to declare what the best value would be out of that property, out of all their properties, then put that out to the public,” she said, saying public engagement would be involved. “You need to know whether or not your council is interested in moving forward with some sort of development, that’s the first thing.”

In the Friends of Rockwood Park letter, spokesperson Joan Pearce said this is the third time the city has tried to offer the eight-hectare property for development, including a stalled condo proposal in 2009 after the land was made surplus and in 2018 when the city attempted to rezone the five-hectare lot to offer it as a potential 60-unit development. At the time, Coun. Gary Sullivan brought a motion to halt the rezoning process due to “overwhelming” opposition from the public, with close to 200 letters and a petition submitted, Brunswick News reported.

“Both times before, there was so much public outcry that I can’t understand why the city would do it again,” Pearce told Brunswick News. “The city shouldn’t be selling any kind of park land.”

Pearce said the motion in February was done “in a sneaky way” because it wasn’t advertised to the public in advance and three councillors were absent. The motion was added to the agenda after a closed session of committee of the whole. A staff report says the recommendation was endorsed by council’s growth committee at a Nov. 21 meeting, though a related motion was not on the open agenda or the minutes from that meeting.

Deputy mayor John MacKenzie, chair of the growth committee, told Brunswick News that “land, legal and labour” are closed-session items, and it would have been dealt with during the growth committee’s closed session and sent to committee of the whole, where it would have been discussed and sent to council’s open session for a vote.

The vote in February passed 4-3, with Couns. Sullivan, Paula Radwan and Barry Ogden voicing their opposition. Couns. Gerry Lowe, Greg Norton, Greg Stewart and David Hickey voted in favour. Reardon as well as Couns. Brent Harris and Joanna Killen were absent, and MacKenzie was chairing the meeting and did not cast a vote.

Reardon said the process for declaring the land surplus was the same as the other four properties, one of which was the former Millidgeville fire station. She said she understood there would be pushback, but the city “needs to uncover every rock” as it searches for housing solutions, with the vacancy rate 2.3 per cent as of October.

“How can I say to people without homes that we aren’t developing, because we need more than 500 acres of parkland?” she said, saying it also affects homeowners because lack of growth also drives rising property assessments, and the rising cost of doing business has to be spread among those same residents.

“I can’t offer the same services today for the money that we needed five years ago, 10 years ago,” she said. “So how do you balance all of that? I feel like it’s incumbent on all of us to look at everything.”

Reardon said the part of Rockwood Park “fettered” to remain a park after being conveyed to the city in the 1960s is to the south, and this was land purchased by the city in 1971 to add to it. She said the city spent $5 million in 2004 running services to the area “with the intention of getting their money back through development, and that’s never happened.”

Pearce noted that the stalled development at the top of King Street as one of “lots of lots all over the place that can be developed for housing, they don’t have to take parkland.” She said “any whittling away of the park is just the start,” and that developing on Harrigan Lake will pollute the other lakes in the Rockwood Park system.

“There’s nothing changed from the situation in 2017-2018. All the arguments are the same,” she said, saying that high rents areas are just as responsible for the housing crisis as lack of development.

MacKenzie said the presentation would be handled at an upcoming growth meeting and the RFPs for the surplus properties would be handled one at a time due to the level of work involved.

“We don’t even know if we’re going to get any requests for interest, you put that out there, you might get 100 ideas, you might not get any,” he said.

He said he understood the concern about the motion, but said they had to consider it because of the audit.

“The outcome of that may not be any different than it was last time, but you still have to go through the process,” he said.

Pearce said she’ll see how the growth committee presentation goes. She said that the arguments in the letters from 2018 were “so good,” saying she wishes the city would have put a covenant on the land at that time.

“I’m pretty old now, I’m not sure that I have the energy to fight this again,” she said. ‘I just think that it’s outrageous.”

– with files from Barbara Simpson

By Andrew Bates, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 22, 2024 at 16:46

This item reprinted with permission from   Telegraph-Journal   Saint John, New Brunswick
Comments are Welcome - Leave a reply below - Posts are moderated