North Vancouver soccer clubs say they are turning kids away from academy and development sessions due to a lack of available space on artificial turf fields.
According to North Vancouver Football Club (NVFC), the North Shore has six turf fields and more than 5,500 youth and 1,000 adults playing soccer, which they say is the highest ratio of players to turf fields in the Lower Mainland.
"The level of talent in North Vancouver being so high and the lack of facilities for us to be able to train these young men and girls is quite honestly ludicrous," said Parham Tavakoli, a North Vancouver coach and volunteer with three sons who play for NVFC.
"I've paid out of pocket and I've rented indoor gymnasiums for our practices during the fall-winter seasons, which as you can imagine is not ideal for player development."
The club recently launched an online petition calling on the District of North Vancouver council to follow through on a 2018 promise to construct a new artificial turf field at Inter River Park, located north of the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge.
Council designated 2023 to be the year when construction would begin. But according to a draft budget presented to council during a meeting on Jan. 30, it was suggested that the project be added to the deferral list.
Factoring in the increasing number of housing starts on the North Shore and anticipated demand to play sports, soccer clubs are concerned they won't have room to register new players to play on turf.
"Where are these kids … going to go? Where are they going to play? How are they going to get their outdoor recreation?" asked Stuart Ince, president of the North Vancouver Football Association.
"Families love to have their kids out there and we need to have decent facilities for them to be able to play on."
Another concern for coaches is that out of the six turf fields currently available, two at Windsor Secondary and William Griffin are due to be replaced over the next few years.
Council to deliberate budget
Council will make its final deliberations on the budget in next month following the conclusion of a public consultation phase.
Recently elected Coun. Catherine Pope says she will push to see the Inter River project included in the final budget.
"Inter River was promised years ago to this community and I feel it is very much needed, it's an important part of our future," Pope said.
"It was included in the budget last year and somehow it's no longer in the budget but other things are. So I think we can find a way to do this, but it's about priorities."
While aware of the concerns made by the soccer community, Mayor Mike Little says council has to consider multiple factors before constructing a new turf field at Inter River.
One issue pertains to the proposed location of the new turf field, which is a former landfill site. Little says council is waiting for an update from staff to confirm that the ground at the site is stable enough to install proper drainage systems.
"We're not intentionally delaying these projects," Little said. "If the money is available and if these different grants are available and there's no engineering barriers … then I don't see why those projects wouldn't progress."
According to the current draft budget, homeowners face a 4.5 per cent increase in their municipal property taxes for 2023.
Little notes that the district already has "about $40 million worth" of projects related to sports fields in its current five-year plan and allocating more money to turf fields will lead to higher property taxes.
Residents have until March 6 to provide input on the budget.
The future of North Shore sports fields
While two artificial turf fields are due to be replaced, Little says a new turf field is being built at Argyle Secondary with the intent for it to be finalized in 2024.
In the meantime, he points out that North Vancouver is home to numerous grass and gravel fields.
"When I was a kid we played on gravel," said Little. "If that's the direction the community really wants to go, to get away from gravel fields and move towards a higher percentage of artificial [fields], then we'll get there but it's going to take some time."