The message from residents who attended last week’s meeting about the future use of the Northcliffe property was clear -- don’t develop our local green space.
Hosted by Coun. Russell Walker, the July 19 public meeting drew a crowd of about 200 people who filled the seats in St. Benedict’s Church Hall on a warm and sunny summer evening.
Many showed up to lend their support to Glen Dodge who owns and operates the Northcliffe Tennis Club. The club offers the region’s only year-round indoor tennis program and has been a local fixture for 20 years.
Dodge was interested in one of the three parcels on the Northcliffe property to provide his business more stability than his current month-to-month lease offers.
Two unsolicited proposals for the property were also received by HRM and representatives from both groups made short presentations. The first was Leba Ramia from Our Lady of Lebanon Catholic Church.
Ramia received loud applause after outlining how the church hoped to buy all three parcels. One parcel would become the site of their new church, the second would ensure continuation of the tennis club through a longterm lease, and the land on which the city planned to build a cul-de-sac would be retained as parkland.
Ramia said they were committed to preserving the park both for the enjoyment of the neighbourhood and to ensure their church was nestled in a park-like setting.
The second unsolicited proposal came from Dr. Thomas Musial, president and CEO of the International Language Institute. The renowned private language training centre is credited with providing English language training to tens of thousands of students from around the world.
Musial wants to purchase one of the three parcels. His intention is to expand and renovate the old Northcliffe Centre building to house the institute’s administrative, teaching, teacher training and testing facilities. He also expressed interest in converting the old pool into a small gymnasium that would be available as an evening rental to the community.
Supporters of Musial’s proposal noted that students who attended the institute wouldn’t contribute to local traffic as they travelled by bus. It was also pointed out the school was only open Mondays through Fridays, and that the institute’s students already contributed close to $3.5 million annually to the local economy.
More than 20 speakers addressed the meeting following the presentations.
Many offered praise for Dodge and his tennis program. They all expressed displeasure over HRM’s proposed plans to develop the Northcliffe property and allow for the construction of 22 residential units.
Local residents were extremely frustrated with plans to build a cul-de-sac on a parcel that is currently parkland, and speaker after speaker made a plea for the parkland to remain.
“Many of us realize the property will be developed ... My concern (and that of my neighbours) is with the development of the park,” said Denise MacDonell.
Pointing out that HRM had invested in an urban forest management program, MacDonell said it was absurd the municipality was now considering destroying such an important wooded asset in their community.
“We are considering cutting a stand of trees that will be irreplaceable in my lifetime and perhaps that of my children,” she said. “Please reconsider rezoning the parkland.”
Speaker after speaker outlined how the peacefulness of the park was a much loved place where for years they’d walked their dogs and taken their children. In addition, many count on it to provide a buffer from local traffic noise.
“For 30 to 40 years it has been a community resource, a neighbourhood space, and I think it should remain so,” said Bob MacDonald. “It may be surplus to HRM, but it’s not surplus to the community’s needs ... I am upset and discouraged that HRM staff has forgotten the importance of neighbourhood parks.”
Coun. Debbie Hum was one of the last to speak. She was also opposed to the cul-de-sac plan, and had performed a title search earlier that day. She told the crowd her search revealed that Clayton Developments had deeded the land to the city and stipulated that it forever be maintained as open recreational space.
“What I’d like to know is the legality of subdividing the lands, selling them off, or using them for anything other than what they were intended for,” Hum said. “I’d like staff to go back and investigate that.”
Written comments on the future use of the Northcliffe lands can be emailed over the next two weeks to firstname.lastname@example.org. More information on the property is available at www.halifax.ca/RealPropertyPlanning/NorthcliffeRecreationProperty.html.
The property in question is just under 16 acres and includes three parcels:
•The former Northcliffe Centre building and paved parking area
•A court area consisting of tennis and basketball courts
•A forested park area and storm water pond
HRM staff proposed a mixed approach to re-use the property which involves:
•Offering the building and associated parcel for purchase by an institutional use
•Offering the tennis courts to the current private operator of the Northcliffe Tennis Club
•Retaining a portion of woodland as public park at the corner of Lacewood and Dunbrack
•Offering the balance of the property for market purchase for R-1 or R-2 residential development in keeping with the context of the existing neighbourhood