The City of Duncan has turned down a land swap proposal from the Duncan Housing Society that would have been a first step in the society’s controversial renewal project at Duncan Manor.
At the meeting on Dec. 13, council voted unanimously against staff’s recommendation to finalize the land-exchange agreement with the society that would have seen a portion of Centennial Park swapped for a section of society-owned land nearby.
After hearing from a number of delegations opposed to the plan at the meeting, Coun. Garry Bruce said he sees the land-swap proposal as a huge loss of parkland for the city if it proceeds.
“The neighbourhood needs more parkland, not less,” he said.
“It would be great if another location could be found for the society’s renewal project at Duncan Manor and we took over that area for more parkland. The park should be added to and not taken away so I’m voting against the land swap.”
Duncan Manor, which is operated by the DHS, is a three-storey, 122-unit building that offers below-market independent housing for seniors and persons with disabilities.
The facility is more than 50 years old so the society proposed replacing it with an entirely new six-storey expanded facility at the site with 133 new and affordable housing units when completed.
A memorandum of understanding was signed between the city and the DHS earlier this year in which the city committed to considering swapping a portion of the nearby Lawn Bowling Club for a section of the park’s parking lot to make way for the construction of the new building on a portion of the parking lot.
At Monday’s meeting, Coun. Tom Duncan said that he had heard people say that the land swap would see Centennial Park destroyed.
“Clearly this is not the case,” he said.
“A six-storey building will soon be normal in most places. We also have to take into account that the city’s population will soon be above 5,000 and we’ll need extra revenue to cover increasing costs, like policing. I don’t see the land swap as destructive, but as an improvement.”
Coun. Jenni Capps said she found some of the discourse from the community around the issue troubling.
She said some messages said the land swap would destroy up to 50 per cent of the park, while others compared it to rape, which she found deeply offensive.
“I recognize the replacement of Duncan Manor has to happen soon and the more priority housing projects we have like this, the less we will have to consider measures like we considered earlier tonight to help people experiencing homelessness [council allowed a temporary-use permit that will see another 40 cabins for the homeless set up on Trunk Road],” Capps said.
“I’d like to see the city make a priority of helping the society find another location for this project. I’m not opposed to density in downtown or density close to the park. Expansion is needed but I don’t want to see any loss of parkland.”
Coun. Carol Newington also said more housing is needed in the city, but there is also a need for places for children to play.
“The park is so vital to the health and welfare of our children,” she said.
“I’m not opposed to affordable housing, but I am opposed to giving up our parkland.”
Coun. Bob Brooke also agreed that housing is a critical issue in Duncan.
“That being said, parkland is scarce in the city,” he said.
“If the city grows as much as we think it will, the value of the park will increase dramatically. I support the redevelopment at Duncan Manor and we should assist them in any way we can, but I can’t support the land swap. It’s not in the city’s best interests.”
Council turned down the land swap, but agreed that the city will continue to work with the DHS to find a suitable alternate location for their project, including the Duncan Manor’s current site within its own boundaries..