N.D.G. residents balk at Benny Park pool plan
INDOOR FACILITY WOULD REPLACE OUTDOOR POOL Neighbours up in arms over borough’s ‘ secrecy’ in changing location of sports complex
A plan to build a public indoor pool inside a municipal park in Notre Dame de Grâce is making waves.
The borough of Côte des Neiges-Notre Dame de Grâce will open a register today to gauge opposition to a $15-million sports and community centre the borough wants to build in Benny Park, at Monkland and Benny Aves., to replace an outdoor pool.
At least 139 eligible voters who live near the park would have to sign the register to force the borough to hold a referendum on the project. A referen- dum result would be binding.
The facility is to include a 25-metre indoor pool, an outdoor deck, a gymnasium and a “green” roof, covered with plants, that could be used by the public.
The complex was originally destined for a vacant nook of Benny Farm, a housing development on the southwest corner of Monkland and Benny, and got a green light from residents during public consultations in February and March.
Citing space constraints and cost savings, however, the borough council on Sept. 4 approved the project for Benny Park, across the street.
That move – made with little public notice, critics contend – has angered residents who say they don’t want to lose the park’s outdoor pool or cede park space to the complex.
Raj Ramtuhol, who lives near the park, spent the weekend distributing fliers to encourage neighbours to sign the register.
“I’m not against the sports complex, but the park land is used by families to play,” said Ramtuhol, who takes his son to the park.
The outdoor pool and swimmers’ pavilion sit on 18,000 square feet of park space, the borough says, and the new complex would cover 26,000 square feet.
One tree would be cut down for the project, the borough says. Nonny Rankin doesn’t believe it. “The park has a lot of trees. And you need to have service roads for service trucks for that kind of complex, which means pouring asphalt,” said Rankin, who lives in a seniors residence on West Hill Ave., at the edge of Benny Park.
Rankin said she and other residents in her 100-unit residence heard last week the borough had moved the project to the park.
“We are very very up in arms about this and about the secrecy,” she said.
“We love our outdoor pool, and it’s heavily used all summer long.”
Rankin and others have organized a car pool today to get residents to the register.
Ramtuhol contends the borough also did a poor job of advising the park’s neighbours they could submit a petition to make residents in their area eligible to sign today’s register.
Residents who live in three zones, to the east, north and west of Benny Park, can sign the register. Those living to the south are ineligible.
By rezoning the park for the sports complex, Ramtuhol contends, the borough will be able to add sports facilities in the park without needing council approval.
“How can you compare a green roof to park space?” another resident, Alana Ronald, asked.
Ronald suggested the borough could build the sports complex a few blocks north, in Confederation Park, at Biermans and West Hill Aves.
Ramtuhol said the borough should build the complex at its original site at Benny Farm, especially since the borough spent $2.4 million to buy the land.
Sources said the borough is now looking at the possibility of building a library at the Benny Farm site, however.
The N.D.G. district lost its main library this year when the privately run Fraser-Hickson library closed after it was unable to get adequate funding from the city.
Borough mayor Michael Applebaum has defended moving the sports complex to Benny Park, saying the park’s existing outdoor pool requires at least $3 million in repairs and is open only three months of the year.
In a statement Friday, the borough pledged it will not enlarge the complex.
Applebaum did not return calls yesterday or Sunday.
“I supported the change (from Benny Farm to Benny Park), not because it was a perfect place to put it but because I felt it was better than the alternatives,” said city councillor Warren Allmand, who represents Loyola ward, where the complex would be built.
He said civil servants told the local councillors they couldn’t fit all the facilities planned for the complex on the Benny Farm site, so another location was needed.
The borough would have missed a deadline to apply for provincial government funding for the project if it had delayed its approval, Allmand added.
The province has yet to say whether it will put up half the $15-million price tag.
The cost to operate the complex is estimated at $1.6 million a year, a borough source said.
Sophie Vondrejs (left) and Nonny Rankin inform N.D.G. resident Hugues Beauregard about plans for an indoor pool in nearby Benny Park. Vondrejs and Rankin were trying yesterday to organize opposition to the plan.
Artist’s rendition of the new Benny Park swimming pool shows its “green” roof of grass and shrubbery.