Members of the Rutland Park Society have killed a deal that would have seen the City of Kelowna take over and improve Centennial Park and pay the society $800,00 that would would, in turn, have been used to fix up the aging Centennial Park Hall.
At a meeting of the society to vote on the deal Thurdsday night, 63 per cent of 102 votes cast were in favour but a minimum of 75 per cent was needed according to the society’s constitution. The society has 120 members.
“I’m stunned,” said a visibly shaken Todd Sanderson, president of the society.
During the evening he had repeatedly made it clear the deal was a good one for the society, Rutland the future of the park and the hall.
Sanderson and his board had negotiated the deal with the city because of the need to improve the park, which was once a centrepiece for Rutland. But in recent years it has fallen into disrepair and is not often used by families except for when it hosts the annual May Days fair, he said. One person described as a field of weeds.
Reports of drug dealers using the park have also been made.
Sanderson told the meeting that to many who do not know the park and adjacent hall are owned and operated by the society, their poor current condition is a reflection of what those people believe Kelowna City Hall thinks about Rutland.
“They look at the condition of the park they think the city doesn’t care about this area,” he said.
But Coun. Gerry Zimmermann, a long-time Rutland resident who spoke on behalf of the city at the meeting, said that perception is dead wrong.
He said the current council has made improving Rutland a priority and the $800,000 it was willing to pay for the 5.5-acre park and a further $400,000 it had budgeted to start work to improve it were evidence of that. He said more money would likely come “sooner rather than later” to finish the park improvements. The entire project could cost more than $1 million, said Sanderson.
But while many spoke in favour of the deal with the city during the two-hour meeting, a smaller number of opponents blasted the deal for proposing turning what is now essentially a driveway into and out of the park into an extension of Shepherd Road.
“”Putting a road through is ludicrous,” said one woman to applause.
Opponents worried that a road with buses on it — as it would link to the new Shepherd Road transit hub—would be dangerous for children using the park.
They were not reassured when Sanderson said the city had agreed to make the road as safe as possible including using traffic calming measures.
Following the vote, Sanderson admitted the society did not advertise the fact it needed 75 per cent of the membership to approve the deal with the city. And that fact was also unknown to many in the audience who voted in favour of the deal.
The agreement, which had already been negotiated with city staff but required the approval of the society’s membership and council, would have seen the society keep the hall and use the $800,000 it received for the park and the right-of-way to bring the 48-year-old hall “up to code,” according to Sanderson.
He said as it stands now, the hall barely generates enough money to maintain itself and that is why the park has been neglected.
If the deal had gone through, the society planned to re-orient the hall towards Roxby Square on its west side where the society will soon operate a community market.The loss of parking on the hall’s east side, in the park, would have been made up by using a large municipal parking lot on Roxby Road that is currently underused.
The city had developed three different concept plans for improving the park that have been shown to the public. The one that garnered the most support included developing a soccer field on part of the park, creating a “multi-cultural” garden and a pavilion, as well as walking trails and grassed areas.
If approved, the deal could have gone through as early as next month.
Sanderson said he did not know what would happen now, as the hall is in desperate need of repair but does not generate enough money to pay for the improvements.
He said an independent appraisal of the building predicted it only has about 10 more years of useful life left if nothing is done to it.
Zimmerman, who was also not aware of the need for 75 per cent membership approval, said he was disappointed both from a personal and a Kelowna council point of view. He said it was a mistake not to have advertised that fact.
Despite the concern about the creation of the road through what is now park property, Sanderson said no parkland would have been lost as the driveway is wider than the road that would have been created to extend Shepherd out to Rutland Road North.