Residents have been pushing City of Chilliwack to preserve what remains of the mature forested areas on Little Mountain as a nature park.
On Tuesday council voted to receive the report on the Chilliwack Park Society proposal, as presented by Glen MacPherson, director of operations, at city hall Tuesday.
Several members of council also voiced support for the park concept, and offered ideas for bringing it to fruition with a combination of private and city-owned land.
MacPherson explained that “post development” of the private lands on Little Mountain, the city will still own almost 50 acres, preserved for the future. The city owns a 20-acre parcel of forested land where the Mt. Shannon zone 1 and zone 2 water reservoirs are located. The remaining five parcels of land are privately owned, covering 71.5 acres, zoned for residential development.
So city officials are already “very cognizant” of the opportunities to acquire greenspace, he said, and are working towards assembling a protected park area on Little Mountain as part of the city’s Greenspace Plan.
“As development proceeds in the Little Mountain area, the city is receiving many requests from local area residents for the old growth forested areas of Little Mountain to remain undisturbed in order to preserve these natural areas for the recreational enjoyment of future generations,” MacPherson said.
“In particular the Chilliwack Park Society is advocating for the acquisition, assembly and preservation of a continuous band of greenspace on the mountain which would form a future Little Mountain Nature Park.”
The group created a web page on the park project where people can donate funds to the cause.
Proponents envision a trail network going from Quarry Road up to Chartwell Drive, and further to the Hope River trail beyond. But one of the obstacles will be gaining access to the trails across existing pockets of private property.
The only “legitimate trail” created and maintained by city crews, is the one off Quarry Road, MacPherson stressed. It connects to other trails on private property, so a network of trails would have to have signage at the property lines where the park crosses into private lands.
The Chilliwack Park Society announced recently it is starting a fundraising campaign to purchase property for trail access points, and to provide green buffer zones between development and trails within the future nature park on Little Mountain.
Coun. Jason Lum pointed out that part of the ask was for council to endorse the nature park idea so that it could start community fundraising to purchase land for the project, including buffer zones.
“A savvy developer will have to look at what people want,” Lum said. “Protection of second-growth forest and habitat certainly would be a selling feature for years to come.”
It could become an opportunity for land owners, and developers, to leave a “community legacy” for posterity, or may spur on further interest or creative ideas.
Lum said he’d prefer that staff worked to “strengthen the language” around the city’s endorsement of the park idea, to add some phrasing like, “the city stands behind it,” or “we are building a Little Mountain Nature Park.”
Coun. Chris Kloot said he agreed with Lum on the need for stronger language, maybe adding wording that says they “intend to pursue” the idea.
And if they’re looking at a 10-year buildout timeline for Little Mountain, there’s a need to “focus,” Kloot said.
Coun. Bud Mercer said city officials might want to get prepared to match funding, should the park society be successful in fundraising. Given the work being done now on update the city’s climate action plan, have a large nature park like this, is “where we want to be.”
Mayor Ken Popove, who reiterated that the proposed park project is in his backyard, said maybe city officials could draft a letter to the private land owners, and “put out the ask to them, to plant a seed.”
Macpherson in his presentation had explained that the city receives parkland development cost charges (DCCs) from every new home in those areas “identified to be deficient” in greenspace.
“Although local residents are advocating for the City to preserve as much greenspace on Little Mountain as possible, it is essential that the City balance the many different needs of a growing community, especially when there are limited residential growth opportunities due to the Agricultural Land Reserve,” he wrote in the staff report on the project.
“Therefore, these funds are limited and carefully prioritized. Land values have risen considerably and these funds are then challenged even further.”
Little Mountain’s west and north faces are owned by the City of Chilliwack and private land owners, including First National. A significant area on the outer edges of the mountain, where development would be difficult if not impossible, is where the city has already conceptualized a green belt in its 2020 Greenspace Plan, from what remains after development.
City of Chilliwack’s Greenspace Plan, and its Trail Network Plan, are the two guiding documents that map out the vision by city planners to acquire future parkland and land for trails as development continues.
In the end, the city’s chief administrative officer, Chris Crosman, summarized the city position by saying that with council having offered its support for the park concept, senior staff can “take all these comments away” and consider the next steps to taking the Little Mountain Nature Park proposal from concept to reality.
Chilliwack Park Society Marc Greidanus said he was “blown away” by city council’s mostly positive reaction to the presentation on their proposal.
“We are overjoyed at the enthusiastic support of city council for our Little Mountain Nature Park proposal and thankful for the contribution of city staff thus far,” Greidanus wrote in an emailed statement after the meeting. “Glen MacPherson presented a concise synopsis of our plans and the work to date.
“Mayor and council responded with encouragement and suggestions to speed the park space along. We look forward to engaging the city and other partners in fundraising efforts going forward.”
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