The future of a small wooded area in Hay River has become the subject of a heated debate.
The area – known unofficially by its supporters as the Hay River Nature Park – has also been eyed for many years as a potential site for residential development.
Tatiana Petrov, a board member of Ecology North who lives next to the area, is leading the charge against the development, which would be known as Fraser Place.
“My feelings are that about a generation ago somebody thought that this would be a good place for a residential development and every time it comes up people fight against it,” Petrov
said. “But times have changed certainly and the community needs have changed, and to basically destroy this seems short-sighted.”
The latest debate was sparked by the town’s new Community Plan.
Petrov is particularly concerned that the first draft of the Community Plan – the one that went out for public consultations – stated there are advantages to proceeding first with the proposed Sundog/Evergreen development near the Hay River Regional Health Centre.
However, a revised version of the Community Plan – which the town has sent for approval to the minister of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) – states there are apparent advantages to proceeding with Fraser Place, followed by Sundog/Evergreen.
Fraser Place would involve about 20 single-unit residences or a mix of single and multi-unit housing. The Community Plan states that can be done while preserving the environmental setting of the area.
The plan noted Fraser Place could be partially financed through pre-sale of “desirable river view lots.”
Petrov believes that indicates the town would build right to the riverbank.
She said the process that resulted in the changes to the Community Plan after public consultation was irregular.
Because of that, Petrov noted Ecology North’s local committee – called Healthy Habitat for Hay River – believes residents should get another opportunity to provide input into the plan.
“That is only fair under the circumstances,” she said
Petrov and her husband bought their home largely because of its proximity to the wooded area.
“This is a mature forest and valued green space that’s used daily by walkers and bikers and joggers and dog walkers,” she said. “It’s an important asset to the community.”
The wooded area covers about a half-kilometre along the shore of the Hay River in the vicinity of the Keith Broadhead Memorial Twin Park.
“It’s the last remaining green space on the south side of town,” said Petrov. “Approximately half of it has already been taken for the ballparks, and this is what is left.”
She said the area is well-used by local residents, and it even includes about four tree houses.
“Communities that actually have the foresight to save and use these spaces are rewarded in the end,” Petrov said, noting it could be a tourist attraction if properly promoted.
Glenn Smith, the assistant senior administrative officer with the Town of Hay River, is well aware of the controversy raging on Facebook.
“Fraser Place has been talked about and discussed in preliminary drawings and inclusions now in our Community Plan for many years now,” he said.
Smith said the number one issue facing the Town of Hay River right now is land development.
“We have basically zero residential lots available in our inventory, which puts us in violation of our Land Bylaw,” he noted.
Smith said Fraser Place would be a small section of the wooded area.
“I would suggest, as it is right now in terms of what’s outlined in the Community Plan, it would have a very small impact on that entire open space/park space that is zoned for it,” he said.
While the wooded area is mostly zoned open space, the section targeted for the Fraser Place development is zoned institutional, which would be rezoned residential.
Smith said Fraser Place would not accommodate a big demand for housing like the Sundog/Evergreen development.
Instead, it could meet an immediate demand, he said. “It’s just a more cost-effective and achievable undertaking because of the size of it, because of its attachment to town water and infrastructure, and it’s a high demand from citizens. So it’s an opportunity to go out and probably sell those fairly quickly and develop them, if that’s the path that’s followed.”
Smith said Fraser Place could essentially be self-financed.
“There is some hope to invest some money this year toward starting preliminary design work on that area,” he added. “Not development, but design. There has been some design work done in past years by past councils and administrations.”
When asked about the wording changes referring to Fraser Place between the draft and revised versions of the Community Plan, Smith said, “I think it’s always been a high priority, whether or not it was reflected properly in the first version. Perhaps through some changes it received more attention in the second document.”
Approval of the Community Plan by the minister of MACA is not expected until after next month’s territorial election.