Council votes down London Road Park rezoning

Lethbridge city council held a public hearing and second reading on Tuesday to discuss the future of London Road Park.

Residents and experts spoke to council, sharing their opinions and concerns with the various options tabled. The rezoning is, according to Ross Kilgour, community planner with the City of Lethbridge, partially a response to residents feeling unsafe in the park.

“The primary purpose of this rezoning really is to improve the functionality of the park and the feeling of safety,” said Kilgour.

He says the rezoning would enable the city to build medium-density housing that is orientated to the park, thus increasing “passive surveillance” and making it a safer place.

“That creates crime prevention through environmental design.”

The London Road neighbourhood has seen a decrease in population of about 30 per cent since the mid 1950s.

Kilgour says there are currently only two new homes being constructed every year in the neighbourhood and keeping in line with the secondary goal, this proposal will help boost this stunted growth.

“Typically for any older neighbourhood, (London Road) has fallen from its peak based on shrinking household sizes over the decades.”

Logan Bartholow, with Opportunity Lethbridge, indicates upgrades to London Road Park would cost taxpayers up to $900,000 if the current building on the lot is demolished as well. This is based off the proposal to keep the park space. However, he says the proposal to create housing on the land would be more “cost neutral”.

“Opportunity Lethbridge believes that a medium-density residential development, as proposed, will address the concerns about the perceived safety of the park, will minimize impact to the adjacent park and can facilitate improved park space,” said Bartholow.

Ellen Carter, a resident in the neighbourhood, says the park is mostly used for safe and normal activities, though she fully supports the proposal to bring in more housing that faces the park.

“We think that building some medium-density housing in the area would help repopulate schools in the area,” said Carter.

However, she says her home is currently one of the few that already faces the park and she admits there are some problems in the area.

“We also see some undesirable behaviours in that park,” said Carter.

She says 75 per cent of the activities, positive or negative, occur in the part of the park that will remain under the proposal to construct new housing.

On the other side, Chandra Deaust, with the London Road Neighbourhood Association, says no homes should be built and instead, the park should be expanded as the local greenery would otherwise be lost forever.

“(Upgrading the park and not creating additional housing) avoids the removal of several very mature trees already on this site,” said Deaust. “Once this greenspace is lost, there will likely be no recovering it.”

She says the greenery in the area is disproportionately smaller than other areas in the Lethbridge.

“London Road Park is one of only three greenspaces in our neighbourhood,” said Deaust, “Our understanding is that we have the second lowest park space in the city.”

Another resident concerned about the idea of medium-density housing is Muriel Mellow. She agrees with Deaust that the neighbourhood needs more green and less grey.

“I am very concerned about the loss of greenspace,” said Mellow, adding how the park, however small, is good for the environment. “That park is doing work regardless of whether I am in it as a human being.”

Another argument she brought up was how the need for park space would only intensify if more people move into the are.

“If you want to increase neighbourhood density, you may have more people who want walkable parks,” said Mellow.

Kate Connolly, a resident of the neighbourhood for 50 years, says she would greatly miss the park if it were converted into more housing.

“The greenspace means a great deal to me and has done through all those decades,” said Connolly.

She says the lower usage of the park in recent years is solely a result of safety concerns for residents. Although, she believes the proposal to rezone a large portion of the park is a “sledgehammer” approach.

“I think there is far more that could be done that does not involve our loss of this area of the park.”

One simpler solution, Connolly says, would be to have laws enforced more stringently in the park.

“Perhaps there could be more policing, more patrols.”

By the time all residents who wished to speak had done so, Carter remained alone in showing support for the proposal.

Council struck down the rezoning by a vote of 5-3. Councillor Rajko Dodic had recused himself from the vote owing to a personal conflict.

Justin Sibbet, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Lethbridge Herald