The average, run-of-the-mill motion to amend the Crowsnest Pass land-use bylaw for property rezoning is usually a quiet affair. The June 8 public hearing for the Dairy Road Park in Bellevue, however, was anything but average.
About 30 residents attended the 1 p.m. meeting to voice opposition to a proposed rezoning of the park from recreation and open space (RO-1) to multi-family residential (R-3), which would pave the way for a housing development project.
The property is owned by Trilogy Real Estate Group, a developer with tentative plans to build 22 to 24 townhouse units in the space. The goal is to price the units at under $300,000 so people living and working in Crowsnest Pass can afford their own homes.
Bellevue residents, on the other hand, want the park to remain, and many were upset the proposed changes weren’t better communicated by the municipality.
“The people you work for here in this room — and 70 people who signed this petition who are working and could not be here today — are telling you that this process has not been transparent and that they have been completely left in the dark,” said Kirsten Perry, the first to speak during the public hearing.
Although notification for rezoning is usually mailed to the neighbouring property owners, Mrs. Perry said she and other homeowners directly next to the park found out only after seeing discussions on Facebook and having a community member knock on their door the day before the hearing.
The Municipal Government Act requires that municipalities advertise public hearings for land-use bylaw amendments, which the municipality fulfilled with ads in the Pass Herald and on its website, but such methods were inadequate for most residents, said Bellevue’s Angela Spearman.
“Why is it the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass is using archaic methods of communication?” she asked. “If I have to put out letters for any development I do on my property, why are you not putting out letters for development on yours?”
Residents said the timing of the public hearing was also poorly chosen.
“This should be held on an evening,” said Dean Bennett. “In the afternoon, 99 per cent of us all work. I actually had to take a holiday to be here.”
Other residents expressed anger and sadness with the thought Bellevue might lose another recreational area; many saw Dairy Road Park as the last green space in the community since Fireman’s Park is in an isolated location and Bellevue Memorial Park features only a playground for children.
With the pandemic negatively affecting mental health, having outdoor recreational space was seen as doubly important.
Moving to an R-3 zoning also opened up the possibility of an apartment building being built, which would bring more people than the infrastructure in the area can currently handle.
Dan Lynk, who spent much of the evening before the hearing canvassing the Dairy Road Park neighbourhood, said attendance at the hearing only represented a portion of those who opposed the rezoning. Changing the park, he added, was contrary to Bellevue’s needs and wishes.
“You guys are lunatics for doing this,” he said.
Also in attendance at the hearing was Stephen Amonson, president of Trilogy Real Estate Group, who provided background on the developer’s intention with the property and reassurances the company wanted to co-operate with the community.
“We think that it’s a project that would make sense for a piece of land that was offered for sale,” he said. “If it doesn’t make sense for the community, if we can’t find a happy medium, there’s plenty of other things that we can do. And I make that promise sincerely.”
“If there’s not a happy medium,” he added, “I’m certainly not prepared to fight a whole neighbourhood about the development.”
Mr. Amonson said the rezoning was still very early in the development process, with further public consultation being offered through the subdivision and development permit process. No development plans were finalized, and public input was being sought on possibilities such as leaving one-third of the property as green space Trilogy Real Estate would develop with pathways, benches, a gazebo and play equipment.
Council decided to postpone voting on second reading for the rezoning until another public hearing could be held on July 13 at 7 p.m. to ensure other Bellevue residents had opportunity to share their views.
Mayor Blair Painter said the hearings were but one part of public engagement, which had begun two years ago when the municipality began updating the municipal development plan. Very few people participated in the public forums, he added, despite the municipality advertising the events and offering free hamburgers at one of the sessions.
Additionally, recent social assessment studies indicated housing shortage in the Crowsnest Pass was a significant issue, with about 900 residents spending more than a third of their income on housing.
“We’re not trying to make money,” Mayor Painter said. “We’re trying to give people a place to live — somewhere they can live and it’s not taking 30 per cent of their income to live there.”
The proposed $300,000 units at Dairy Park Road would help alleviate some of the housing crunch, added Coun. Lisa Sygutek.
“It’s cheaper than a rental in this community right now, and they have something to own. Everybody has the right to live somewhere, they have a right to own something,” she said.
Hearing feedback from the community, Coun. Sygutek continued, had been valuable as she hadn’t considered Dairy Road Park as one of the last recreation spaces in Bellevue. The lack of direct notification was also good to know.
“It got missed, and it shouldn’t have been. That’s our fault,” she said.
Balancing municipal housing needs with individual concerns, said Coun. Dean Ward, was a challenge he had experienced himself: the reason he and his wife moved to Crowsnest Pass 28 years ago was because of the view from their house, which was now being blocked by residential construction.
While acknowledging it was impossible for council to appease everybody in the municipality, Coun. Ward asked for respect from residents as they expressed their concerns, along with a little empathy for the job council members had in front of them.
“There are people who say ‘I don’t want the mine, no development, and don’t ever increase my taxes,’ ” he said. “Well, I encourage anybody to come sit in this chair and achieve those goals.”
The next Crowsnest Pass council meeting will be held July 6 at 7 p.m. at the MDM Community Centre in Bellevue. Agenda packages will be made available online at bit.ly/CNPagenda.
Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze