By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – The Lakes subdivision could get something resembling a park after Council voted 4-2 in favour of Councillor Lisa Holmes’ motion to have Administration look for $100,000 to commence Phase One of a park development for the subdivision. Administration has been tasked with examining where that money might come from and report back to Council, at which time councillors would further discuss and vote on the matter.
Holmes’ motion came at the end of a presentation by John Buchko, a consultant with EDS Group Inc. who has been working with the Town of Morinville on a plan for four Morinville parks: Heritage Lake, the Lakes, Montreaux and Rotary Park.
Last October, Buchko held an open house at the cultural centre to layout the potential design concepts of the four parks for community members. His May 14 visit to Council was to bring Council an update on where the project was and what should be done on the road ahead to help the community develop a prioritizing and phasing program for park development, one that would look at other areas of the community as well.
Councillor David Pattison got the ball rolling on a discussion of Buchko’s plan. While praising the work, the councillor said he felt more work was needed to examine the community as a whole and to figure out how to fund parks and recreation.
“It gives us some of the components,” Pattison said of the presentation. “Some of it is maybe beyond what economic realities are. I really think we have to look at the community as a whole.”
Pattison said the Town has never really had an actionable plan for parks, and until it does the Town needs to stop working piecemeal.
Councillor Nicole Boutestein defended the importance of prioritizing work on the parks that were the focus of the consultant’s project instead of going back to the drawing board with more high-level consulting work to broaden the scope.
“It’s the dog chasing its tail,” she said. “We have three parks that are important with people in town. We cannot proceed with all of them.”
The Councillor said one of the parks should be selected as the community’s priority. After that, a proper level of work can be done to develop a plan for that park. Boutestein felt without doing something concrete the money spent on consulting plans would be wasted, the documents returning to the shelf. “Did we just throw that money away because we’re not going to do anything?” she asked.
For Deputy Mayor Lisa Holmes, the place to start is the Lakes. She said the Lakes have been promised a playground since 2011. Further examinations of plans would be asking residents to endure another delay. “The Lakes deserves a playground this year,” Holmes said before making her motion to have Administration look for $100,000 in funding to pay for the first phase of a park development.
Councillor Gordon Boddez said he understood wanting to get something done, but said he saw proceeding on the Lakes as an ad hoc move, something he felt Council has tended to do often in the past. “I don’t like this jump first and saying let’s come back and think,” Boddez said. “I think we are just jumping again.”
Holmes took Boddez to task on his claim. “This is not coming out jumping off the bridge,” she said, adding the $100,000 number was not plucked from thin air, but from the Buchko’s report. “We have been doing this for three years.”
Buchko said he felt $100,000 could go into a park at the Lakes without greatly impacting the broader planning he is doing for the Town, so long as the Lakes park keeps the spirit of the planning work done so far. Instead of merely popping up some equipment that may not fit into the concepts the Town wants for its parks overall, he felt any work must fit into what has been designed and proposed. “We don’t want to start again,” he said. “We’ve done some really great work to date.”
Holmes’ motion to seek funding for the Lakes passed with a 4-2 vote of Council. Councillors Boddez and Pattison objected on the proposed spending process rather than where spending was being proposed.
Finding the funding
Chief Administrative Officer Debbie Oyarzun said Administration would now look at what is currently in reserves set aside for recreation in the Lakes subdivision. When a subdivision is put in, the developer pays money to the Town in the amount of $1,000 per single family home and $400 per door on multi-family units. That money is earmarked for recreational funding for developments, and the CAO said there is a small pocket of money set aside for the Lakes from those developer contributions. Administration will also investigate with staff to see if other reserves funds are available as well as grants and perhaps budgeted capital project monies from projects that may not be completed or could be phased in.
“We will bring those options back to Council for consideration,” Oyarzun said. “Without having those numbers in front of me right now, I do not know truly what the impact will be. Whether or not something gets done will [be] decided on if the dollars are available – or where – and Council’s decision as to whether or not to proceed.”
Oyarzun said the current parks planning project is part of a new process the Town is doing whereby plans are put in place and reserve funding is set aside so the community is not playing catch up on recreation. As a development grows, the funding would be in place to phase in the parks to meet the development’s need, branching out into a similar model to meet the community’s needs as a whole.
“There hasn’t been planning done for parks at a detailed level. We have this big Recreation Master Plan that says we need a park in this area,” Oyarzun said, adding the Master Plan looks at parks and recreation at a higher and broader level. “What does the park look like? What is it going to cost to put something in there? Has it been done?” Those sorts of questions are what the current park plan on the four parks looks at with an eye towards prioritizing them.
Oyarzun said that same template would then be used with the rest of the green spaces in town. “By standardizing, you can also leverage purchasing power because you know you are going to purchase more than one sign. You are going to purchase six signs,” she said. “The challenge is we are doing this detailed planning for the first time. Previously it has always been very high level. Now we are taking that big step and asking what it is the community wants and what is it going to cost at the end of the day?”
Oyarzun said Council would be able to use the information to put prioritized parks into their budgetary planning cycles. “It allows us to do this planning in a more cohesive and bigger scale so that we are not doing these ad hoc projects that are random and really aren’t effective,” she said.
Information on potential funding for 2013 work on a first phase park for the Lakes is scheduled to return to Council for further discussion and possible decision June 11.
The consulting firm will also be working with the Town to develop a phasing strategy and funding model for the community’s other proposed parks.