Opinion: Vancouver home purchases for Trout Lake Park expansion a waste of money

Jul 10 2017, 9:13 pm

Is there really a need for more park space in the City of Vancouver, especially at the expense of housing stock?

The City of Vancouver intends to wipe out at least one entire city block of single-family homes to expand the green space of Trout Lake Park, which is already one of the city’s largest public parks with an area of 67.5 acres.

In early-2016, the municipal government took the first step in implementing its expansion plan by purchasing a 4,026-sq-ft mid-block heritage property at 3030 Victoria Drive at a cost of $1.6 million, and ever since the acquisition the home has been sitting vacant.

The 1919-built heritage residential property at 3030 Victoria Drive on the western border of Trout Lake Park was purchased by the City of Vancouver in 2016. (MLS)

In a release, the City says that at the time of purchase, it planned on acquiring the adjacent properties in the near future for the purpose of expanding the park, but this has not happened as quickly as first thought as the property owners have to date refused to budge.

But in order to acquire the entire city block, which is comprised of nine other residential properties, municipal taxpayers would have to foot an additional acquisition bill of about $13 million, based on the latest property assessments by BC Assessment, bringing the total cost to close to $15 million.

A map showing the mid-block location of 3030 Victoria Drive next to Trout Lake Park. The City of Vancouver intends to buy the adjacent properties on the entire city block. (BC Assessment)

This large expense will only grow the park’s footprint by approximately a measly 0.64 acres or less than 1% of the existing total park footprint.

The Vancouver Park Board claims the Grandview Woodlands/Cedar Cottage area is a “park deficient neighbourhood,” even though there are dozens of parks within a short walking distance away from Trout Lake Park such as the 10.6-acre Clark Park just 200 m to the west and the 11-acre Beaconsfield Park about 400 m to the east.

Map of the locations of other parks near Trout Lake Park in East Vancouver. (City of Vancouver / Google Maps)

The City says such acquisitions are examples of good “foresight and planning” and can be likened to the Park Board’s attempt to acquire the strips of waterfront residential properties along Point Grey Road in Kitsilano. This would have completed the waterfront area as a continuous green space, which made perfect sense.

But the municipal government was only able to buy a handful of waterfront properties before housing prices soared and became unaffordable for the Park Board. The property acquisitions between Trafalgar Street and Waterloo Street later became six pocket parks with multi-million dollar views of the inlet, mountains, and the downtown skyline.

More recently, the Park Board has been developing plans to create a new major “destination park” along the Fraser River near the foot of Cambie Street, but this would entail purchasing industrial lands, which are facing extreme scarcity in the region.

However, the reality is there is no shortage of park space in this city. Over 230 public parks managed by the Park Board occupy 11% of the City of Vancouver’s geographical area, significantly more than any other major municipal jurisdiction in Canada, and that does not even include the 2,160-acre Pacific Spirit Regional Park straddling the City’s western border and the 222-acre Central Park on the eastern border.

Map of the locations of over 230 parks within the City of Vancouver. (City of Vancouver / Google Maps)

Instead of conducting park expansions, especially with parks that are already sizeable, City funds and resources should be allocated towards improving existing park spaces to make it more enjoyable and multifunctional for users.

With that said, concepts for an improved Trout Lake Park already exist, but the Park Board’s master plan process for the park was halted four years ago pending the conclusion of the City-wide off-leash dog park study this year.

In fact, well-thought-out park space designs are relatively easy accomplishments compared to the more challenging task at hand. The hard part actually comes with conducting the discipline of consistent maintenance.

Unfortunately, the value of sufficient maintenance of existing spaces and facilities seems to be negated in Vancouver. Politicians seemingly generally prefer funnelling funds towards ribbon-cutting projects involving photo opportunities rather than sustaining a proper annual budget for maintenance staffing.

This was lamented by the Non-Partisan Association in the lead-up to the 2014 civic election when they proposed creating new standards and defined service levels for cleaning and maintaining parks and recreational facilities. At the time, the City of Vancouver employed just 33 gardeners for all of its parks, including Stanley Park, Queen Elizabeth Park, VanDusen Gardens, and Trout Lake Park.

Vancouver is already a city within a park. Rather than more park space, what we are in need of is better designs for existing parks and a big uptick in upkeep.

Potential concept for the future of Trout Lake Park.

Latest master plan concept for the futrue of Trout Lake Park. (City of Vancouver)