With housing nixed, city ponders future of Baxter Park

This drone photo shows Baxter Park, at left, and the two-acre property fronting Lakeshore Road that had been earmarked for housing in the foreground. It was taken shortly after the Kinsmen Centre was demolished last year. Drone photo, courtesy of David Cooke, inskyphoto.com

Troy Shantz

City staff will meet with residents in coming weeks to develop an action plan for Baxter Park, following city council’s decision to nix a proposed housing development there.

The previous council had agreed to sell the park’s southern two acres — home to the former Kinsmen Community Centre — and create five new home building lots fronting Lakeshore Road.

But that decision was reversed in a 7-1 council vote on May 27. Since then, staff has been talking to neighbours who fought to keep the land public, said parks and recreation director Rob Harwood.

“We’re entertaining any options they’re interested in discussing, just as we will with any other parks in the community,” he said.

“Often, we’re approached by community groups that show interest in particular interests in their areas and wish to make contributions to assist in the improvements.”

The Kinsmen Centre at 656 Lakeshore Rd. was declared surplus in 2016 after staff estimated it would cost a quarter of a million dollars to replace a leaking roof and remove mould and asbestos. It was demolished last year.

The previous council agreed to sell one-third of the property for residential housing. Residents, armed with a 300-signature petition, had argued relinquishing parkland for quick cash was a bad idea that set a terrible precedent.

As one neighbour told councillors: “It’s akin to burning the furniture to heat your home and saying, ‘Look at how much I saved on gas.’”

But the housing was stalled after neighbours appealed to the Local Appeal Planning Tribunal. A three-day hearing was scheduled for August.

Neighbourhood spokespersons Gisele Owen and Patrick Marcella gave council a chance to reconsider on May 27 when they again urged the land stay public.

“The possibilities are endless,” Owen said at the meeting, noting new signage, a picnic shelter and a fountain could improve the city’s only public beach park between Canatara and Mike Weir parks.

“If this stretch of land was blocked with houses this panoramic view and access to the park from Lakeshore Road would be gone forever,” she said.