How much is a park in Kingswood worth?
That's the burning question in our minds following city council's decision to begin expropriation proceedings on 17.9 acres of land in the neighbourhood.
The land in question, which is supposed to be a park and school site, has been left undeveloped for years thanks to the city's fraught negotiations with Canterra, which owns the land. Canterra is supposed to hand the land over to the city at some point – it's a requirement for all developers to put some of their land aside as municipal reserve – but has refused to do so because it does not want a high school built on the site.
The Municipal Government Act gives the city the right to acquire this land by expropriation, and that has always been an option open to city council, but the financial implications stopped former councils from taking that path since the city would have to pay market value for the property in question.
The value of that land in 2019 is hazy. Canterra says it does not have a current appraisal, and the city says the cost of expropriation could vary significantly. But former mayor Nolan Crouse, who was at the helm in 2012 when the city was trying to find a solution on these lands, told the Gazette the previous council decided not to expropriate the lands due to the cost associated with that.
In September 2012, the council of the day received a report on next steps the city could take that put the approximate assessment value for the park and school site at $27 million.
That’s not even counting what it would cost to eventually build the park in question.
Mayor Cathy Heron told the Gazette this past week the costs of expropriation should be substantially lower than that, but there is no clarity to be had yet on what the range of costs might be or how much council is willing to spend to acquire this land. Even council itself does not know what the costs will be.
Heron has been trying to find a solution in Kingswood for years. She’s the one who tried to amend the neighbourhood’s area structure plan in 2012 to separate the school site from the park site and move it closer to Campbell Road.
She’s also the one who moved to halt that amendment after residents turned out in droves to oppose the changes.
Without changing the school site, expropriation appears to be the only option left – aside from inaction. But given that the city has well-documented capital funding problems and recently increased its debt load, it cannot afford to be shelling out millions of dollars for park land.
"We don't want to be held hostage to a land developer for them to determine what the municipality needs," Heron said.
"There's no park in the entire area of Kingswood. There's nothing and there's lots of kids out there and lots of families and it's not fair."
Heron is right that it isn't fair. But, as every parent has said at some point to their child, life isn't fair. The question taxpayers will undoubtedly have is, is it wise to use their money – and potentially a lot of it – for land the city is entitled to?