A call for Port Moody’s upcoming revision of its Official Community Plan (OCP) to include a significant westward expansion of Rocky Point Park failed to get any support at council.
Coun. Haven Lurbiecki tabled the motion on July 25, following a report on the first phase of public engagement relating to the city’s Parkland Strategy earlier this month.
Lurbiecki said the city has two options for expanding the park: a developer-led approach versus a community led approach.
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“A developer-led approach will get us the least park . . . Why? Land speculation,” Lurbeicki said. “We negotiate parkland as part of some massive development at a hyper-inflated price and we get pocket parks and walkways between and around skyscrapers.”
The land immediately west of the park is the Flavelle Mill site, waterfront industrial land which is planned for redevelopment, including a dozen towers up to 38-storeys high and 3,400 residential units.
In 2017, an OCP amendment passed allowing for high-density residential zoning, which Lurbiecki said has increased the assessed land value by 600 percent.
She said if the land was assessed as industrial, the city would be able to acquire more park space through negotiations with the land owner.
“Changing our vision in the OCP … has nothing to do with land expropriation, it’s not about forcing any sale of land. It is indicating interest by our city to work with a landowner, And letting them know clearly what our needs are,” Lurbiecki said. “It’s literally the purpose of our OCP.”
Port Moody currently has a policy within the OCP to buy up private industrial land north of Murray Street, so Lurbiecki said there would be “nothing new or radical” about applying the policy for growing Rock Point Park.
The motion suggests the city could use developer levies to pay for parkland acquisitions, or petition Metro Vancouver or the province for help.
A parkland acquisition strategy was first identified as a priority in the Parks and Recreation Master Plan in 2015, which anticipated a population growth of 5,000 people by 2024.
Out of 282 survey respondents, 40 percent of respondents specifically named Rock Point Park as too overcrowded, and park overcrowding was listed as a top access issue generally.
The motion cited staff reports from 2022 stating the city has approved housing for 8,000 new residents by 2022, and is on track to double its population.
Most of this growth will occur in condos within walking distance of Rocky Point Park, Lurbiecki said.
Her motion also cited data from OCP surveys in which 66 percent of residents disagreed with the high-density designation of an oceanfront district; 92 percent had concerns over the growth impact on parks; and 54 percent listed Rocky Point Park’s expansion as a top priority.
Lurbiecki said the city cannot wait for completion of the Parkland Strategy to decide on the park’s expansion due to the speed of development.
“If you don’t think it’s crowded today, you will when there are 20,000 more people walking to that park,” she said.
While most of council agreed Rock Point Park needs to be expanded, they were unanimous on waiting for long-range planning to be completed before any official commitments are made.
There are three such plans in development related to Rock Point Park. Drafts of the Parkland Strategy, OCP, and the Rocky Point Park and Old Orchard Master Plan are scheduled to come before council between the end of 2023 and early 2024.
Mayor Meghan Lahti said she campaigned on expanding Rocky Point Park, but was clear that it needed to be done through “good-faith negotiations” with the landowners.
Lahti added there was no chance Metro Vancouver or the province would help them pay for parkland acquisitions, especially considering the latter’s recent move to set housing quotas on the city.
“The reason that we’re on that list is partially because of things like this, because we’re having these discussions that are preempting people’s rights to develop their own property,” Lahti said. “We cannot stand in the way of somebody who already has an OCP designation.”
Coun. Kyle Knowles accused Lurbiecki of cherry-picking data.
Knowles said despite being listed as the biggest access issue, only 24 percent of respondents agreed parks were overcrowded; and when residents were asked how funding should be allocated, parkland acquisition was the least popular of four options.
Furthermore, the majority of respondents thought small community parks were more important than large destination parks.
These findings are in line with the July 2022 findings of the Port Moody Parks and Recreation Commission, which concluded that park land acquisitions should only be made in underserved neighbourhoods, according to Knowles.
“I’m confused as to why council is being asked tonight to disregard, speak over, and bury three separate reports written by qualified professionals,” Knowles said. “Any true parks advocate should want to support the expansion and improvement of parks throughout Port Moody, not just one.”
While she disagreed that Rocky Point Park needs to be expanded, Knowles said the developer of the Flavelle Mill site has agreed to provide 7.5 acres of new park space, which would almost double the current 9.5 acres.
She suggested Lurbiecki’s motion had ulterior motives, which amounted to “harassing a longtime Port Moody business owner and employer by threatening to take his land.”
“If the land isn’t for sale and we’re not expropriating it via downzoning, how are we paying for this?” Knowles said. “Do we want to live in a city where your property, if desirable to the local government, can be taken from you with significant political will?”
Coun. Callan Morrison agreed, stating he ran on a campaign defending the rights of private property owners.
He said he believes in collaboration with development partners when they submit their proposals.
“This is not the solution,” Morrison said.
Coun. Amy Lubik said Port Moody shouldn’t be choosing between expanding neighbourhood versus destination parks, as they serve different needs.
While Lubik agreed council should be signaling the expansion of parks is a priority within the OCP, and should be a focus in negotiations in the future, she said council needs to see the planning first.
She brought forth a motion for council to “explore opportunities” to expand Rocky Point Park in the OCP, but it was defeated by a 4-2 vote.
Lahti said city staff are already exploring these opportunities, and the OCP and other plans still require further consultation before they are finalized.
“We need to let these processes play out,” Lahti said. “If we don’t feel that it addresses the minimal expectations that we have, we can send it back (to staff).”