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Corbella: Battle over selling off baseball diamonds at Richmond Green leaves no winners

Calgary Herald logo Calgary Herald 2021-06-05 Licia Corbella
a group of baseball players standing next to a fence: Leanne Ellis and Mark Yobb, both members of the Rutland Park Community Association, pose for a photo in Richmond Green Park. The two are fighting City Hall as the city is planning on selling off two heavily used baseball diamonds in the park. © Provided by Calgary Herald Leanne Ellis and Mark Yobb, both members of the Rutland Park Community Association, pose for a photo in Richmond Green Park. The two are fighting City Hall as the city is planning on selling off two heavily used baseball diamonds in the park.

The City of Calgary’s plan to sell off a two-hectare plot of land where two heavily used little league baseball diamonds currently sit is striking out with members of the surrounding community.

Richmond Green Park is designated as one of Calgary’s 34 regional parks, such as Nose Hill, Stanley, Bowness and Edworthy. But it doesn’t feel anywhere as nice as those, even though it abuts the Richmond Green Golf Course, a public course city council voted to shut down in 2019.

The plan is to sell the land, at Sarcee Road and 33rd Avenue S.W., to a developer to build mid-rise, higher density housing, with commercial mixed in. The money raised by the land sale is to go towards upgrading the park.

“If this five-acre plot of land is sold off with the justification that the money from that sale will be used to upgrade the remainder of the park, then every Calgarian should worry about their neighbourhood park or regional park because this will set a terrible precedent,” says Leanne Ellis, vice-president of development and traffic with the Rutland Park Community Association.

That’s a valid point — kind of a home run for the no-sale side of this battle.

On Tuesday, the Richmond Green needs assessment report will go before the priorities and finance committee and then it’s expected to go before council on June 21 with a public hearing slated for June 26.

a bird sitting on a wire fence:  The City of Calgary is planning on selling off two heavily used baseball diamonds in Richmond Green Park. This baseball diamond is the largest of three in the park that would remain. © Brendan Miller The City of Calgary is planning on selling off two heavily used baseball diamonds in Richmond Green Park. This baseball diamond is the largest of three in the park that would remain.

On May 4, the city, along with Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley, held a recorded virtual town hall entitled The Future of Richmond Green and attended by 270 concerned citizens.

“In the open house video , Woolley said that two other parks in Ward 8 have recently received upgrades, so my question is, why should Richmond Green Regional Park be the only park that’s required to sell off some of its space in order to receive similar upgrades?” asks Ellis.

Another valid point — a good solid hit that takes the no-sale side to first base.

We all understand that the city is strapped for cash and that if a park needs upgrades — particularly an unsexy one like Richmond Green — it’s not likely a high priority but rather a nice-to-have that will get kicked down the road.

Ellis says that the CFB West policy area, which includes the high-density Currie Barracks development, is approved for a population of 21,300 — and the Open Space Policy dictates that two hectares of open green space be provided for every 1,000 people, then the area will be short 26 hectares of open space once those densities are reached. It was not possible to confirm those numbers with the city before deadline.

Surely, however, the now-closed golf course covering an area of seven hectares more than offsets the two-hectare piece of land the city wants to sell? Right? Well, again, like everything about this park, there’s no simple answer.

The golf course was built over massive underground water reservoirs built in the early 1900s for Calgary’s drinking water so development on those lands is not allowed.

“We’ve been told that a significant portion of the old golf course needs to be fenced off, at least at night, so it’s not exactly a park and those water storage basins are expected to be expanded going north and there are pump houses and other infrastructure so the idea that a ball diamond can be built there is suspect,” says Mark Yobb, the director at large of the Rutland Park Community Association,

He walks to first base and that means there’s a player at second for Team Status Quo.

a wooden park bench sitting in the grass:  The City of Calgary is planning on selling off two heavily used baseball diamonds in Richmond Green Park. © Brendan Miller The City of Calgary is planning on selling off two heavily used baseball diamonds in Richmond Green Park.

Woolley says he grew up tobogganing down the hill there, learned how to play golf at the now-closed golf course, his wife and he play tennis there, their three-year-old son plays in the “tired, old” tot-park there and his nephews currently play baseball at the little league diamonds there that are slated to become townhouses and commercial properties if the current proposals are approved.

“This isn’t an evil ploy to make rich developers richer,” said Woolley. “I care about this park, but there are a lot of challenges with it.”

A road from the Currie Barracks development is going to cut through the land, a road that has long been approved by council. Changes are coming to the park, whether those baseball diamond lands are sold or not.

“The density of the community of Rutland Park is 30 per cent less than it was in 1968,” argues Woolley.

That means schools have had to close down and much of the park’s usage comes from other communities. More housing and density in the community might see those amenities open up again.

“If council doesn’t approve all of the money from the sale of the land going back into the park, then I’ll oppose it too,” says Woolley. “And then it’ll just be status quo and some people are OK with status quo and I’m not terribly opposed to status quo. It’s just not as good as what I think this package could make.”

Currently, there’s a retired four-hectare roads depot designated as park space. Woolley says that could be turned into park space and one baseball diamond could go there. He says the land doesn’t need to be reclaimed, as it’s really only salt that’s there. The opponents of the sell-off plan are skeptical and say oil products likely pollute the land as well.

All of Woolley’s comments together score a home run for the sale of the baseball diamonds to update the park.

That means this battle is tied, but it’s the top of the ninth inning and the status-quo team has two players on base.

The public hearings could drive in a few more runs for Team Status Quo and leave Team Change in their dust.

Whatever the outcome, many people will be unhappy. Team Status Quo may win but the status quo won’t stay for long once Canada Lands puts in that road and then the surrounding communities might have wished they had improved the park changes when they had a chance. It’s a tough battle to call — neither option is terrible nor is it ideal.

Licia Corbella is a Postmedia columnist in Calgary. lcorbella@postmedia.com 

Twitter: @LiciaCorbella

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