Re-Greening of Hastings Park Grinds to Standstill
Vancouver took another hit last night against its legendary liveability. The re-greening of Hastings Park ground to a standstill, as nearly a half million square feet and $204-222 million of new, taxpayer-financed buildings were approved for installation in the parkland, replacing buildings torn down just over ten years ago.
City Council approved a new Hastings Park Master Plan last night, reversing the park re-greening policies of the previous four Councils.
Seventeen of eighteen registered speakers demanded referral of the staff report, which was dated November 27 but only released to the public late last Friday night, December 12, and less than a week before its hearing before Council.
These speakers included MLA Shane Simpson, the Hastings Community Association president, the Hastings Park Conservancy president, school principals, daycare operators, residents from every side of the Park, and UBC Urban Landscape Professor Patrick Condon (who spoke by letter, attached below).
The Council meeting stretched for 5 1/2 hours as speakers attacked the report for factual inaccuracies, misleading survey methodology, false reporting, conflict of interest, illegality of process, illegality of content, policy-inconsistency, and ecological and economic unsustainability.
Of particular concern was the legality or propriety of the Chair of the PNE Board, the corporation solely benefiting from over $200 million of new taxpayer-financed spending, being the sitting Councillor proposing and voting for this new outlay. Equally dubious from a legal standpoint was the fact that the two most senior officers of a registered charity, the PNE, sat for two years on the City Steering Committee that directed this new Master Plan, in clear conflict with long-standing Canada Revenue rules against lobbying by charitable organizations (http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/tx/chrts/plcy/cps/cps-022-eng.html#P107_9478).
Public speakers pointed out that a 250,000 square-foot, above ground parking garage and 150,000 square foot Exposition and Convention Centre building were neither appropriate nor ecological structures in a dedicated city parkland. No business plan was presented for either structure, and it was admitted that private funding was not an option for either. A proposal to build a new permanent high fence around Playland, the footprint of which would be expanded by 30%, was also deemed a bald-faced affront to the already limited community access to this second largest park in Vancouver. One presented option for enlarging Playland would displace 4 busy sports fields, the training ground of the 2009 Little League World Series team from Hastings-Sunrise.
In comparison with Vancouver's 500,000 square foot new Convention Centre downtown, built at a cost of nearly $900 million, the proposed facility in Hastings Park would be a third the size, but is budgeted to cost only $40 million.
At the end of 5 1/2 hours of debate, Vision and NPA Councillors voted for the new Master Plan. Several Vision Councillors insisted that this halt to the park re-greening policy was consistent with Greenest City Action Team (GCAT) recommendations. COPE Councillor Ellen Woodsworth was the lone dissenting voice, who proposed a motion to refer the report until March, but was voted down 8-1. Mayor Robertson and Councillor Cadman were in Copenhagen.
Council is ready to approve $20 million dollars of cuts to vital community services and long-standing Vancouver institutions. This new capital spending would be ten times higher, and add new and significant ongoing maintenance and operational spending to the city budget.
The Hastings community is considering its options. Ten years of park greening policy has ended with new taxpayer-financed commercial buildings on the horizon that will cost the equivalent of at least a third of Vancouver's diminishing annual budget.
How long can Vancouver retain its Number 1 spot as the most liveable city on earth, when its largest park reverts to a year-round trade fair?