People in favour of preserving a small wooded area – an area they call Hay River Nature Park – made their case before town council on Oct. 29.
A delegation from Healthy Habitat for Hay River, which is a subcommittee of Ecology North, argued that the area should not be partially used for a residential land development to be known as Fraser Place.
However, they found no obvious support from council.
Matthew Lakusta, who spoke for Healthy Habitat for Hay River, told council that many residents had “fears and concerns” about the development proposal.
Lakusta said supporters of the Hay River Nature Park – an unofficial designation – had two requests of council.
One was to redo a public consultation process for the town’s community plan.
“There have been significant changes to the community plan after the public consultation process was closed, especially with regards to Fraser Place,” said Lakusta. “There is also prioritization of areas to be developed for change, and the public should be allowed to comment on that.”
And he pointed to a 300-name petition in support of redoing the public consultation for the community plan before it is signed by the minister responsible for Municipal and Community Affairs.
The second request was more to the point.
“We would like the town council to preserve this wooded area as a nature park,” said Lakusta, noting it is used for cycling, nature walking, dog walking and jogging.
Healthy Habitat for Hay River has also collected 300 names on a second petition in favour of preserving the wooded area.
“We believe that there’s a large appetite out there to maintain nature parks in Hay River that are easily accessible to residents,” said Lakusta.
And he added, “We all need to acknowledge that, once this green space is gone, it’s gone forever.”
Lakusta said Healthy Habitat for Hay River, which is a subcommittee of Ecology North, is not opposed to development in the community.
Deputy Mayor Robert Bouchard expressed support for the proposed Fraser Place development, while noting the town’s community plan is probably eight years overdue and has gone through consultations three or four times.
Plus, Bouchard noted that Fraser Place would be much less expensive than larger contemplated land developments known as Sundog/Evergreen in the area of the new hospital.
“Those other developments are $12-$14 million to put water, sewer, infrastructure in place,” he said, noting that Fraser Place would cost only about $2 million and could be done relatively quickly.
Bouchard also stressed there is a housing crisis in Hay River.
“So in my opinion, this development is needed in the community, and is financially feasible,” he said. “We don’t have $12 million to do a development. We’re up against our borrowing limit. We’ve gone to the territorial government, asked for $12 million. Basically, they had very little interest because they’re up against their borrowing limit.”
Bouchard said he appreciated the residents’ concerns and can work with them on some issues.
“But the land needs to be developed,” he said.
Coun. Keith Dohey also told Healthy Habitat for Hay River that he supports the Fraser Place development.
Dohey is also not in favour of redoing the public engagement part of the community plan.
“The fact is the town has a lot of other projects that are tied up with this community plan that we’re waiting on for a signature before we can move forward on,” he said. “Land development is just one of them.”
Dohey also noted that the opinions of supporters of the natural area are well-documented.
“I don’t see why we couldn’t develop a part of that area and add a trail system in there that’s actually owned and maintained and operated by the town,” he added.
Dohey said that housing will be needed for employees of a planned long-term care facility and a fish plant.
“So where are we going to ask them to live?” he said.
The best decision for the town is to develop residential property, Dohey said. “And right now Fraser Place is the only financially viable option that we have as a council to do.”
The councillor believes Fraser Place can be developed without clearcutting the whole area.
Mayor Kandis Jameson said there needs to be a balance between development and the environment.
Jameson also pointed out that there is no actual plan for development of Fraser Place.
“Once the geotech is done, then we take a look,” she said.
Jameson said council will take the concerns expressed by Healthy Habitat for Hay River under advisement.