Cedar Ridge residents, from left, Karen Charlesworth, Gary Dutchak, Daynna Major and Brian Hartwig stand in an overgrown park space they say the city has neglected in the subdivision. — J.R. Rardon photo

Parksville residents seek city’s help with thorny issue

City violating own bylaw, delegation tells council

A group of residents in a relatively new Parksville subdivision claim the city is in violation of its own bylaws — and possibly in violation of provincial legislation — by failing to maintain parkland within the subdivision.

The city, meanwhile, said the property was never intended to be part of the city’s parks portfolio, and for the city to take on the work of maintaining the small green space could negatively impact maintenance at higher-priority parkland.

Residents Karen Charlesworth and Brian Hartwig appeared as a delegation before council at its Feb. 5 regular meeting, to seek remedy for a green space that has become overgrown with invasive and other weeds and grasses and presents a fire hazard in the subdivision each summer.

The property is located in the Cedar Ridge development, between Parklink Place and Retegno Avenue.

“The Cedar Ridge development’s parkways and walkways are not maintained to an acceptable standard,” said Charlesworth, a former elected official in the Comox Valley who has relocated to Parksville. “The City of Parksville may be in violation of Bylaw No. 1383, the maintenance of real property (and) may be in violation of the provincial legislation, the Weed Control Act of B.C.”

Charlesworth said residents are concerned about the threat of fire to adjacent homes from grasses and weeds that grow to six and seven feet tall in dry summer conditions, health and safety danger to children from thorns, stinging nettles, etc., and weeds and noxious plants spreading to neighbouring properties.

Chief administrative officer Debbie Comis said the green space was intended to be allowed to grow in a “natural” state.

“When this development was created, there was a development permit put in place,” said Comis. “There was a ‘new’ form of landscaping created under the development permit that was supposed to be low-maintenance and have as low an impact as possible on the city itself, because the city wasn’t accepting additional parklands. The reason it wasn’t developed as a traditional park was to reduce the maintenance costs.”

Vaughn Figueira, the city’s director of engineering and operations, said a previous council established a three-tiered priority structure for maintenance of the city’s parklands, with Community Park taking precedence, followed by the city’s other community parks. The “outer” parklands, much of them undeveloped properties, are last in line.

Coun. Mary Beil asked Figueira whether he and the parks staff could determine what might be done at the site.

“What I think needs to happen is staff be given direction on what level of service is expected at this park,” Figueira said. “Right now this is considered an outer park… we’ll just have to compensate with the understanding the level of services on some of the other parks is not going to be quite as high as it is now.”

Asked if the 1.5 full-time equivalent parks positions included in the provisional 2018 budget, a result of the city’s purchase of the Ermineskin lands, could free up resources for maintenance at Cedar Ridge, Comis said, “There may be some positive impacts on our outer parks in time, but I can’t guarantee that.”

Coun. Leanne Salter wondered why the Ermineskin parkland, which is intended to be left in a natural state, would take priority over a development green space. She forwarded a motion that the city maintain the Cedar Ridge parkland, but failed to get a seconder and the motion died.

“Ermineskin is a natural park, and Cedar Ridge is a very heavily developed area now,” said Salter. “When I look at resources and who would be impacted by not cutting grass, they don’t even compete.”

Coun. Teresa Patterson said the developer of the subdivision “did a disservice” by designating the property parkland because it was never going to be maintained. She introduced a motion to refer the question of maintenance to staff for review.

Patterson’s motion carried, with Salter and acting Mayor Kirk Oates, sitting in for the absent Marc Lefebvre, opposed.

The Cedar Ridge residents said their trouble with the property is compounded by the fact that the city will not allow residents to perform the maintenance themselves.

Hartwig said that when he and another resident took on clearing of overgrown brush and noxious weeds, including Scotch broom, stinging nettles and burdock, they were told by the city to cease and desist or risk fines.

“As far as citizens doing work in the park themselves, there was a time in the past when volunteers helped out with gardening and planting, all sorts of areas,” said Comis. “Unfortunately, times have changed and the liabilities placed on the city… for anyone to do any kind of work, they have to be covered by workman’s compensation. As a result, volunteer citizen groups are not an easy thing to accomodate in this day and age.”

The residents said they scheduled their presentation after holding two face-to-face meetings in late 2017 with city staff, including Parks foreman Warren Payne, Comis and Lefebvre.

“I am very disappointed that the legislation was not brought up by everyone,” Charlesworth said to councillors as she rose to leave. “This is your own bylaws we are asking you to enforce.”

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