Before the new homes and roads are constructed through Willoughby’s Williams neighbourhood, Township Coun. David Davis would like to make a significant change to the plan.
He is advocating for a new five-acre park to be added into the neighbourhood plan, on top of the 43 acres of parks and open space already allocated, to take advantage of the habitat and significant trees in the area.
“It’s the right thing to do and I think everyone in the future is going to benefit from it,” Davis said.
He doesn’t know exactly where in Williams it should go, but believes “now is the time” to make the change. The Williams Plan has been given third reading by council, and is currently at Metro Vancouver for approval. It has not been given final reading.
Davis, whose family has lived below the Milner escarpment for generations, said his idea is inspired by a newsletter sent out by the University of British Columbia on the effects of nature on human health.
According to the article, outdoor physical activity and mental health go hand-in-hand, Davis noted. Walking in forested areas decreases stress and anxiety and inspires better moods, and children who play outside in nature are more likely to care for it when they get older.
“I don’t think that you can put an extra five acres in there and in 10 years, 20 years we’re going to say, ‘Well that was a disaster why did we do that stupid thing?'” Davis said.
Township staff provided a list of the greenspaces already in, or allocated for, the area surrounding Williams, including a 90-acre park earmarked for the east side of 216 Street.
Mayor Jack Froese said that he is pleased with the number of parks already planned.
“In my opinion, there is a good amount of greenspace there, but what’s really important is that there’s a lot of greenspace just across the street from the Williams Neighbourhood Plan,” Froese said.
Coun. Charlie Fox said that he is not against Davis’ idea, but believes there are lots of factors to consider when making that decision. With land selling for $1.7 to $2 million an acre in that area, he estimates a five-acre park could cost up to $10 million to acquire. He suggested council instead discuss the idea at a Council Priorities Committee meeting.
“An additional five acres is a fairly expensive entity to afford,” Fox said. “If you’re asking the developers to give it up as part of a community amenity contribution, that might be one way of looking at it. Unfortunately, you’ve got to talk the dollar part in here as well, because you just can’t plunk in five acres.”
Following that comment, Coun. Bob Long made a motion to refer the park idea to staff for more information. The motion carried in a 5-4 vote, with Councillors Blair Whitmarsh, Angie Quaale, Michelle Sparrow and Mayor Froese opposed.
Both Quaale and Sparrow said that adding another park would not be simple, especially considering the community consultation process for the neighbourhood plan has already wrapped up.
“I didn’t hear from anybody in the public consultation processes that parks were lacking or greenspace was lacking in this area,” Quaale said.
“I think staff have gone well above and beyond to save some of those stands of trees, and done a lot of things to enhance the livability of the residential piece of this.”
“I think staff have a done a great job in taking into account the uniqueness of this area and using that to create something special for the community,” Sparrow added.
“I don’t think it’s as easy as dropping in another five-acre park in.”
Meanwhile, Coun. Kim Richter and Petrina Arnason supported Davis’ view.
“I’m going to support sending it back (to staff) because Councillor Davis has lived his whole life in that area, and he knows that that area is a beautiful escarpment with lots of stunning views and trees that could, and should, be protected, but won’t be, once the rezonings start coming through,” Richter said.
“If we don’t save it now, we’re not going to have an opportunity to do anything about it,” Arnason said.
“So I think that we need to have a little bit more vision and more foresight.”
Davis said the 43 acres of parks and open space in the Williams plan is misleading.
“We’ve got a neighbourhood park — five acres … A Williams view park — five acres. A watercourse compensation area greenway — it’s 14 acres, but some of that you’re not going to want to walk through. I know, I’ve walked through it,” Davis said.
“You’ve got a pocket park — an acre and a half. You’ve got a wildlife habitat patch — is that a third of an acre? And who is going to be walking through a habitat patch? They shouldn’t be. Neighbourhood landmarks — that’s not a park. Neighbourhood forest meadows — two.
“If you add all these things up, sure it sounds kind of impressive, but there’s no way it’s 43 acres. It’s a lot less than that.”