The Cliff Bungalow and Mount Royal Communities were first notified on December 24, 2012 of an Application to consolidate three lots in Mount Royal, creating a parcel with an area greater than one acre for the purpose of building a single family home. The Application also proposed to subdivide the adjacent public parkland, adding a portion of it to the consolidated parcel. This portion of the parkland is immediately adjacent to 638 Hillcrest Avenue SW. Both communities supported the consolidation of the three lots, but opposed the subdivision and sale of the parkland and its incorporation into a private property.
The communities oppose the sale of the parkland for the following reasons:
1. This is an historic viewpoint used by generations of Calgarians to view the City prior to the encroachment on adjacent parkland by the current and several previous owners. It comprises most of the usable flat land at the top of the escarpment. Historic aerial photographs show a parking area for the viewpoint and heavily used pathways for access to and from the city streets below. Many photographs taken from this location are so iconic as images of the early city that they are held in the Glenbow Archives, and several of them are now a hundred years or more old. The loss of the public viewplane from Hillcrest Avenue would be sad indeed for many who drive this hill regularly . If this section of the park is lost into private ownership and is used as a buffer for private property, the landscape features installed (wall, fence, trees, hedges, etc.) to create the private screen will result in the loss of what is left of the public view of the north and east horizon from the street.
2. According to the Municipal Government Act, (section 609), historical use of parkland by an adjacent property owner does not give the owner any claim over the City-owned lands. The argument that the Applicant was unaware of his property boundary, and therefore the encroachment, is not relevant. The land encroached-upon extends well beyond the property line shown on every public map, whether for taxation, community boundaries, or historical deed. The limits of the encroachment are far to the east (by some 45 feet) of the registered north-south property line on the east side of the lot. The actual lot width shown on the title is 115 feet, so the encroachment represents an increase of almost 40% in the width of the property, a noticeable difference.
3. Although the Application seeks to fence off the parkland from public use, it stipulates that the proposed purchased land will retain its current zoning (S-CS) as parkland. This avoids the mandatory requirement for a public hearing associated with any zoning change. But it would still remove the parkland from public use, and result in “privately owned public parkland”, parkland behind a private fence, and inaccessible to the public.
4. Documents relating to the "deal" show that in a 2006 memo, the City indicated to the Applicant that the communities of Cliff Bungalow and Mount Royal would need to be at least neutral for a proposal of this nature to receive approval, otherwise the land would remain parkland and available to all Calgarians. There is no evidence of any consultation with Cliff Bungalow or Mount Royal by the Applicant at any time prior to the Application to subdivide the parkland.
5. The Golder Slope Study of 2006 (provided to affected property owners) showed a loss of half of the development potential of 638 Hillcrest Avenue due to setbacks applied because of the instability of the adjacent slope. Protracted negotiations regarding the slope repair and payment for the retaining wall resulted in a shared cost arrangement between the City and all the affected neighbours. The Applicant claims to have an agreement with the City to purchase this parkland in exchange for participation in the costs of the retaining wall built adjacent to three properties fronting on Hope Street and the property at 638 Hillcrest Avenue. The wall was required in order to restore the development potential of these four properties. But no other neighbour received a similar additional benefit.
6. There has been a lack of consultation and transparency associated with this potential sale. In fact, there was a deliberate decision made to put this matter on hold until after the fall municipal election, due to its controversial nature. That such a process was used by the City implies weak protection of parkland here and elsewhere in Calgary.
7. The tax assessment on 638 Hillcrest Avenue was $49,500 in 2012 (no, this is not a typo) while all neighbouring properties ranged from a high of $4,800,000 to a low of $1,600,000. This property has been assessed as follows: 2009—$551,000; 2010—$551,500; 2011—$30,500; 2012—$49,500; 2013—$63,000. No other neighbouring property approaches this low level of assessment, and no explanation has been forthcoming in spite of a year of inquiries. This has caused disbelief in the community and prompted still unanswered questions about the assessment of this property.
This parkland, with its protective caveats, was a gift to the people of Calgary in 1920 by the CPR. We question how inner-city public parkland that includes an iconic and historic viewpoint, rests under the protection of a comprehensive caveat, and which was gifted to Calgarians as a permanent park, can be simply subdivided and sold into private ownership without any consultation with the communities involved. If this can happen to a park so carefully and wisely protected, it can happen anywhere in the city to any park.
More than seven hundred people have signed a petition against this sale of parkland, and many letters have been sent to Mayor Nenshi and to Councillor Woolley. We strongly believe the redevelopment of this proposed consolidated parcel is the appropriate time to remove the encroachments, to return this parkland to the public domain, and to conduct an overall review of the process for any sale of public parkland.
Community representatives have been informed by the Mayor's Office that there is no formal agreement in place for the sale of the parkland in question. There was, however, an agreement by City Administration to recommend the sale to Council based on the information they had at that time. The final decision is with City Council. The CPR caveat on the parkland is still in place at this time.
1. Sale of public parkland without due process
2. Encroachment on public property, lack of enforcement regarding encroachment, and
subsequent claim of ownership of encroached land
3. Transparency of negotiations and transactions
4. Consistency in the application of City policies and by-laws
5. Sale of an historic city viewpoint without any proper assessment of its heritage value. This
viewpoint is currently up for consideration by the Calgary Heritage Authority.
This information was complied by a grassroots collection of community volunteers dedicated to the preservation of public spaces for the stewardship and enjoyment of all Calgarians.