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Council reconsiders Cheakamus Crossing park

Four high-cost projects deemed "nice-to-haves" at recent council meeting



Cheakamus Crossing Park seemed like a grand idea when VANOC first proposed the Athletes' Village - turning the old garbage dump into a community amenity. Whistler is lacking in football and soccer fields after all, and the neighbourhood children would certainly need a length of grass to whittle away summer days once the area was turned over to Whistler residents.

But as the $2.9 million project was set to begin this spring, council decided to take another hard look at whether or not the amenity is an absolute necessity.

"I don't think it's time to do it," said Acting Mayor Grant Lamont, who was one of the councillors last Wednesday voicing his concern over the project.

At the council meeting, council voted 6-1 to approve a lengthy list of general projects as part of the 2011 - 2015 Five-Year Financial Plan while excluding four others: the Cheakamus Crossing park, the $520,000 reconstruction of the Spruce Grove Valley Trail Bridge ($20,000 of which would be spent in 2011, to be completed by 2013), a $423,000 pedestrian bridge crossing at 19 Mile Creek and $250,000 for construction of Lost Lake trails.

"It comes down to 'likes' versus 'needs' at this point," Lamont said. "To spend close to $3 million at this point to build a park down there right now - well, I can see the demand from a resident's standpoint and I certainly see that it would make the neighbourhood more complete but at this time I don't think we can really afford to (do it) without having the market lots (sold) and everything else that's going on to support it," he said.

Plans for the park were included in VANOC's proposal for the Athlete's Village since day one and the municipality had agreed that they would foot the bill for whatever the park would be used for - current plans for which are three soccer fields to be used primarily by Whistler Youth Soccer Club (WYSC) for tournaments and games, as well as by residents of the Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood.

Now, council seems to be regretting that decision - made by the previous council - as articulated by Councillor Eckhard Zeidler at the council meeting.

"I think we really shanked this quite badly," he said. "That this particular expense is on our particular budget at all I think is a bit of a tragedy... This should have been absolutely included in the overall pro forma for the development of that neighbourhood.

"We got this one dead wrong."

PJ O'Heany, president of the Whistler Youth Soccer Club (WYS), said that they are working with the municipality to come up with business models to make efficient and profitable use of the fields, including soccer tournaments.

"We would love to see beautiful fields at Cheakamus Crossing, as per the original plan, but we realize that everything is subject to change," he said, adding that WYS "recognize(s) the realities of financial prudency."

Councillor Chris Quinlan said the bulk of the cost is the subgrade, so even one field, rather than three, would still be costly. The RMOW had originally committed to completing the fields in 2011, earmarking the whole $2.9 million for this budget year.

Lamont said: "This might be an opportunity to take a second look at it (the park) and ask the people in the area what they would like to see in the park. It may be a negative at this point but I think maybe people can give some consideration as to what makes sense for the neighbourhood."

Pique spoke with several residents of the neighbourhood and they all echoed each other's concerns: that a field would be nice and would certainly tie the community together, but it will have to wait if the funds aren't available.

"I don't think it's a must-have but it would be a nice thing to have," said Cheakamus Crossing resident Mike Hashimoto, adding that he wouldn't be disappointed if the RMOW needs to spread the project out over the longer term to save costs, if possible, rather than finishing it all off in one go.

"I think it would add to the community. It's a nice little area we have here and it certainly feels like a community, so having a sort of focal point would be good."

Another resident, Amber Michaud, said the fields would open up the opportunity for bringing more people into the community to use those fields, but she asks: "Where's the money going to come from? How much more are our taxes going to go up?"

"Of course it's always nice to have more useable space," said Michaud.

"It would be nice but I'm not going to move if (they don't) put it in."



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