Castlegar City Council has a tough decision to make. On the one hand, you have a much-needed home. On the other you have a park.
From the start, the news that a developer wanted to build a mixed-use residential and commercial complex on the site of the former Brandson Pool was an emotionally charged topic. The March 14 public hearing for a rezoning application for the development was no exception.
The in-person meeting component took place at the Castlegar Community Forum, and with a capacity limit set at 50, the space was full. Many more watched online via Zoom.
Prior to the start of the meeting, the city had received 46 written submissions regarding the project. Seven expressed support, while the rest disagreed or were hesitant and asked for clarification.
The meeting lasted four hours 20 minutes. That’s not a typo – the meeting started at 6 p.m. and ended at 10:20 p.m.
The staff and the municipal council showed great patience throughout the evening, allowing anyone who wanted to speak to speak without a time limit. Some were allowed to approach the microphone multiple times. This is not the way things are done in many other communities. Time limits for speakers and meetings are more the norm.
Some speakers vented their frustrations to staff and council with insinuations of wrongdoing and questions outside the scope of the zoning hearing. These were all met with calm and respect and occasional reminders to be respectful until one illustration crossed the line into sexism, at which point the mayor and a councilor called foul and demanded an apology .
All speakers were against allowing development to proceed, except one. Although different angles were given, the main reason for opposition was the loss of park space.
The developer needs part of Brandson Park for the project to go ahead. Although the project plans provide for green space on the new development, there will be a net loss of green space compared to the existing park. The city says that if the project goes ahead, the remaining park space will be redeveloped and include a children’s play area.
But for many, that’s not enough. They want to see the memory of Bob Brandson honored and green spaces preserved.
So that leaves council with the difficult decision of weighing more than 50 new units of housing stock against leaving one stock untouched. A 2018 Housing Needs Assessment showed a need for more diverse housing in the city, and resident surveys rank increased housing as a top priority for the city. The city’s Planning Advisory Commission, a council made up of residents who are not councilors or staff, advised council to approve the project as long as the project’s green space remains accessible to all and the community is consulted regarding the redesign of the remaining space of the park.
So the choice is not as clear as some might think.
A decision will be made at the April 4 council meeting and it is one that has captured the community’s attention more than any other in recent years.