Times Colonist

Ellice Park protests should be no surprise

A new park would help in stopping endless squabbles

- CAROLYN HEIMAN

Not surprising­ly, there’s a save-EllicePark campaign percolatin­g in the Burnside Gorge neighbourh­ood. The angry letters from a few area residents are starting to come to the newspaper. The Burnside-Gorge Neighbourh­ood Associatio­n vows to try to collect the more than 6,000 signatures needed to stop the project this summer.

The City of Victoria’s public relations department is countering with news releases reiteratin­g the promise the community will get another park for its sacrifices.

But where or when that might happen is still a mystery, ensuring that this issue

on its way to becoming an ugly verbal brawl — just before a municipal election.

Ellice Park, if you’ve forgotten, is the postage stamp-size park in an industrial area that the city has offered as its contributi­on in a deal with the B.C. government aimed at creating homes for people with none.

It worked this way. The province gave cash toward constructi­on of a new shelter as long as the city ponied up land. Since neither the city or province is in the business of running shelters, the Victoria Cool-Aid Society is earmarked to be the operator of the new shelter, allowing the outgrown Streetlink operation to convert to supportive housing.

The deal was messy because it forced the city to abort its sometimes cumbersome community consultati­on process and the discussion was held in-camera. It’s not surprising the community is rising up over it.

Also grating to another faction is that the deal involves Victoria getting rid of a park for the first time in its history. Given that the city is pretty much built out, new parks aren’t exactly easy to create.

Councillor­s Pam Madoff and Geoff Young, who supported the idea in principle behind closed doors, have reversed their support when the finite nature of the deal became clear. Dean Fortin now sidesteps it as a conflict because he’s employed by the Burnside Gorge Community Centre.

Burnside Gorge residents accuse the city of purposely letting the park run down to the point no one wanted to use it. Others suggest there are better locations for a shelter.

Perhaps there are. Some of the suggestion­s — such as the B.C. Hydro property at Rock Bay now under remediatio­n — even make sense. But the logistics of building on that land are so far off that any serious considerat­ion would amount to an excuse to delay any action. (When they are ready there’s nothing to say that supportive housing couldn’t be built on them. It’s not as if the shelter beds on Ellice Street will come anywhere near solving a growing homeless problem.)

So back to the not-so-perfect Ellice Park solution. Wouldn’t it be nice — just for once — to move ahead with a project and skip the endless debate that often ends up with nothing at all happening?

That’s not to say the city council should be given a free pass on Ellice Park. Rather, let’s hear about where this new park is going to be.

Without that informatio­n it’s hard to have a constructi­ve discussion about the proposed shelter at Ellice Park. A new park closer to where Burnside Gorge families live is the only possible upside and we’re only hearing about that in theoretica­l terms.

Mayor Alan Lowe said the city is actively looking for other properties but won’t say where because of fear that will drive the price up. One city staff official said no serious considerat­ion of park acquisitio­n can happen until the Ellice Street Park rezoning is a done deal.

All of this sounds like the old rulebook being brought back into play for this piece of the deal.

But remember: This is a project that didn’t follow the rules to begin with.

It seems crazy to pull out the book for the parks acquisitio­n portion. Ellice Park will likely work just fine as a shelter. But the community deserves better in terms of what it’s been asked to swallow.

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