This web site opposes Application SB2012-0501 to the City of Calgary to subdivide and purchase a portion of Block R Parkland known as Cliff Bungalow Escarpment or Hillcrest Hill with the legal address of 2325 Cliff Street SW

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
― Margaret Mead

 

EXTENT OF ENCROACHMENTS

Below is a scale drawing showing the extent of encroachments on public parkland at the top of Hillcrest Hill.  The encroachments impede public access to most of the useable, flat land at the top of the hill.

B12 ProspectPoint encroachment

HISTORY OF ISSUE by Mt Royal Community Asso Development Committee

On Christmas Eve, 2012, an application was received for the consolidation of three lots at 2224 Hope St, 643 Hillcrest Ave and 638 Hillcrest Ave, creating a parcel of land of more than an acre, for the purpose of building a single-family home. The application also included the subdivision and purchase of parkland adjacent to 638 Hillcrest Ave.  Comments from the Cliff Bungalow and Mt Royal Community Associations were due by January 7, 2013. Despite the strong objections of both communities, the application to subdivide parkland was approved by the City of Calgary Corporate Planning Applications Group.


The next step in this process is a review of the application by the Land and Asset Strategy Committee, which at the time of this writing on January 15, 2014, is expected in February or March 2014.  Following that review, the matter goes to City Council.


The MRCA Board held an information meeting on December 9, 2013 to share the facts available at that time. Despite the holiday season, fifty people attended, including a friend of the applicant who spoke on his behalf. This was the largest turn out seen since the days of traffic calming issues. As a result, community opposition to the sale of parkland escalated with more penetrating questions surrounding the lack of transparency and early community involvement and consultation.


There is an agreement in place between the applicant and the City for this sale of the parkland, which is contingent on approval by City Council, but this approval has not yet been obtained.  It has proven difficult to get full disclosure from the City regarding the agreement, the negotiation of which transpired prior to any notification to the affected communities.


The most asked and worrisome question is, “how can inner city public parkland, including an iconic viewpoint under the protection of a restrictive CPR caveat, be subdivided off from the rest of the parkland and sold into private ownership?”  Though the application seeks to wall off the parkland from public use, the application stipulates that the proposed purchase will retain its current zoning as parkland.  This has the effect of avoiding the requirement for a public hearing associated with a zoning change, but with the practical result of it becoming the equivalent of privately owned parkland.


Documentation from 2006 and 2008 show that the City refused to support the proposed sale of parkland, but by 2010, the City’s position reversed. The agreement appears to have been pushed through despite the initial objection from the City’s Parks Group. The City indicated in 2006 that the communities of Cliff Bungalow and Mt. Royal would at least need to be neutral for a proposal of this nature to go through, but that requirement was not enforced. Whether you care about the sale of parkland or not, you should at least care about the process!


NO ZONING CHANGE claim

Subdivision Application SB2012-0501 to the City of Calgary to subdivide and purchase a portion of parkland known as Cliff Bungalow Escarpment or Hillcrest Hill with the legal address of 2325 Cliff Street SW (shown as Block R on City maps and zoned S-CS which is special use community service) stipulates that the land to be purchased will retain its current zoning even though it would be walled off from all public use. How can S-CS zoning stay in place in face of the requirement that S-CS zoning serve the community? Retaining current zoning has the effect of avoiding a public hearing which is required with a zoning change.

The application does not seek to rezone, build on, or remove vegetation. The fact is, this piece of parkland cannot be built on because the underground anchors supporting the retaining wall are under it, and those anchors are protected by a strict easement that prevents building development.


The encroaching vegetation was planted by various owners of 638 Hillcrest, not the City, and serves to impede public access. The landscaping best suited for the use of this land as a viewpoint is incompatible with the applicant’s proposed use as a buffer to Evamy Ridge. A closed off residential front yard landscaped to block the view to the north and east and prevent access is blatantly in opposition to any public use, now or in the future.

Although this applicant may never wish to rezone, it is likely some future owner will.
 

NO ONE USES THIS PARKLAND claim

From time immemorial, the buffalo flowed in off the plains, across the area that is now Mount Royal, and ran down valleys, now named Eighth Street and Sifton Boulevard, to reach the Bow and Elbow rivers for water. For hundreds of years, First Nations people found temporary shelter from the plains winds below the east escarpment of Mount Royal. There they also found ample supplies of berries and small game on the escarpment, and yet remained hidden, with easy access to the buffalo just around the corner in either direction. Archaeologists tell us this place was never a permanent settlement but rather an occasional temporary encampment. The height of land, now called the Hillcrest Hill lookout, provided an ideal location from which to survey this rich and lovely domain. Use of this land (the future location of Holy Angels and Cliff Bungalow Schools) for occasional encampments persisted right into the early years of the 20th Century. Latterly, it was a simple stopping place on the trade route leading to Fort Calgary. Tsuu T’ina tipis were last photographed here in 1907

photo

The old-time surveyors and land men with the CPR knew a thing or two about positioning property to take advantage of the potential of the land they were developing. They were responsible for siting the Banff Springs Hotel, and the Chateau Lake Louise, among many other properties on breathtaking vistas across Canada. They made certain that large numbers of the public could take advantage of the best views available at any given location, all the better to sell seats on the trains that brought people to the scenery. They did the same when they created Cartier Park in Mount Royal, insuring that everyone who came to the park could enjoy the best view, and not just those who lived on Champlain and Cartier, the streets fronting on the park.


When they finalized the west boundary of Block “R” in 1910, they chose to follow the top-of-escarpment line for the north part of that boundary. The northernmost lots on Hope Street extended right out to that line. The CPR could easily have done the same and followed the escarpment for the entire length of that west boundary. Instead, they chose to run the south part of the boundary not along the escarpment, but in a straight line, somewhat to the west of the escarpment — a conscious decision that put the already well-used historical viewpoint at the south end of Block “R”, within the park, and not within a private residential lot.


Calgary was becoming a city early in the 20th Century, and residents and visitors alike came to enjoy the birds-eye-views of the rapidly growing city that could be had from the Mount Royal hilltop (now Prospect Avenue), and particularly from the Hillcrest Hill lookout. 

1915 photo

The high, level land at the top of this hill has been used regularly to enjoy the spectacular views of the city, of the sunrise, and of the river valley. The fact that photographers used this lookout to shoot several of the historic views of Calgary found in the Glenbow Archives makes clear its importance since the earliest days of the city. What is important about this view to photographers in particular is that it not only provided a remarkable view, it provided it with the growing city bathed in south sun (in contrast to the escarpment north of the Bow River, which also provided great views, but the faces of the buildings were, and still are, in shadow). The historic viewpoint, known by locals as “fireworks view” is the best viewing spot on the hilltop, and is located north of the basketball hoop and asphalt court encroachments at 638 Hillcrest Avenue SW. It commands a 180̊ view of the north, east and south horizons — not available from Evamy Ridge which is lower and the view there is limited by its lower height and partially obscured by trees.


Air photos show that a dense and sophisticated trail system cris-crossed Block R from the earliest days, providing west access to the Tsuu T’ina encampment below, in what was to become Cliff Bungalow, and later pedestrian access to and from the centre of the city, schools, churches, businesses and the massive rail yards to the east.

paths photo

By the teens and 1920s, so many cars and buggies were coming here, that Hillcrest Avenue had expanded to include a dirt side-road where Calgarians could park for the view, to have a picnic, or to spoon! Many a Calgary girl was wooed and proposed to here. Many a postcard taken here was sent off to family and friends in Eastern Canada, the US, or Europe, so they could see Calgary for the first time.

1929 photo

This use was so significant by the time of the 1924 air photograph that people coming in vehicles had created a worn side road off Hillcrest Avenue where they could park and take in most of the view without leaving their vehicles, and the viewpoint itself was well worn by the feet of the viewers using it.

Hillcrest wide road photo

Currently, neighbours often see TV news vans parked along beside the parkland because reporters have long come to this viewpoint and area to do their “standups”, using the spectacular city skyline as their backdrop. This spot is commonly cited on popular websites as a significant viewpoint

Although watching the Stampede and Canada Day fireworks and the Olympic flame draw the largest crowds, the fact that the fireworks watchers come from all parts of the city and now spill over onto Hope Street, Earl Grey Crescent, and Hillcrest Avenue, away from the best viewing location, speaks only to the real need of the public for the full space, not just the fragment currently available because of the encroachment of 638 Hillcrest Avenue.  The encroachment misleads people to think that they would be trespassing on private property if they used the entire area of level, public parkland at the top of the escarpment. The numbers of people who come singly or in small groups to enjoy the place almost every day of the year exceed the Stampede viewers, over the course of a year.


DIDN'T KNOW IT WAS PARKLAND claim

Like most Calgarians, residents of nearby communities who use this land regularly have not become vigilantes who kill the vegetation planted by the homeowner, although they are distressed by its unchecked growth blocking both access and view. Nowadays, most of the people who come here to watch fireworks or the sunrise have no idea that the front yard viewpoint is actually parkland.


In a land purchase, the property title comes with a legal description of the land. For 638 Hillcrest Avenue, the legal description is enough: it clearly shows a simple rectangular block of land, not a property with the east side angled off to follow the top of the escarpment. Everyone who buys property is given this document as a proof of title when the land is transferred. It is also customary to get a plan of survey with the purchase of land. If there was no plan of survey done with the purchase of 638 Hillcrest Avenue (or none was available through the vendor), there was at least access to public domain City tax and development maps to determine where the property line was in relation to the adjacent public park. The 638 Hillcrest Avenue owner claims that he (with a civil engineering degree) did not know the land he was using was parkland. How then could park users with less knowledge and access to less information be expected to know it was public parkland and make their claim?
 

It is unreasonable to claim that the proposed purchaser be excused for not knowing, but the public ought to have known and made their claim or lose their right to the land because of their inaction. Though the proposed purchaser claims inaction himself, for some 25 years, he has, more than anyone else, the information, the qualifications and the responsibility to know where his property line was.


OVERVIEW OF HILLCREST ESCARPMENT LAND ISSUE

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.

 

Principles Involved
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 compiled by a grassroots collection of community volunteers dedicated to the preservation of public spaces for the stewardship and enjoyment of all Calgarians.


A CALL TO ACTION

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Margaret Meade, anthropologist

 

To speak out to political representatives, write to Mayor Nenshi, your ward councillor and all councillors. If you want to be brief, just say that you want the public park land at the top of Cliff Bungalow Escarpment / Hillcrest Hill to remain as public park land so that all Calgarians can enjoy the magnificent view from this unique green space. See all contact addresses below. can enjoy the magnificent view from this unique green space. (See all contact addresses below.)


The next step in the process of this proposed sale is the Land and Asset Strategy Committee (LAS Committee) which is composed of Mayor Nenshi and the seven councillors listed below. There is currently no date set on the LAS agenda for this issue. When the agenda date is assigned, there may be a very short lead time. It is important to let ALL councillors know your thoughts on this issue. Please note that a non-member councillor may attend a LAS meeting, declare an interest, vote and be counted for quorum on an agenda item. LAS Committee meetings are at 9:30 AM the last Thursday of the month. See full details at
http://bcconline.calgary.ca/publish/bcc.aspx?id=50

After a review by the LAS Committee, this issue goes before City Council for a vote.

To sign the online Parkland Petition opposing this sale, go to mountroyalstation.ca and click News and Events. No one else can see your name or address on the petition. The petition emails you a confirmation right away which you must execute to finish the process. Only one name per email may be entered.

Members of LAS Committee:
Mayor Naheed Nenshi
themayor@calgary.ca

WARD 8, Councillor EVAN WOOLLEY
evan.woolley@calgary.ca

WARD 1, Councillor WARD SUTHERLAND
http://www.calgary.ca/Councillors/Ward-1/Pages/Ward-1.aspx

WARD 2, Councillor JOE MAGLIOCCA
http://www.calgary.ca/Councillors/ward-2/pages/ward-2.aspx

WARD 4, Councillor SEAN CHU
http://www.calgary.ca/councillors/ward-4/pages/Ward-4.aspx

WARD 6, Councillor RICHARD POOTMANS
http://www.calgary.ca/councillors/ward-6/pages/Ward-6.aspx

WARD 9, Councillor GIAN-CARLO CARRA
http://www.calgary.ca/councillors/ward-9/Pages/Ward-9.aspx

WARD 12, Councillor SHANE KEATING
http://www.calgary.ca/councillors/ward-12/Pages/Ward-12.aspx

Other City Councillors
Any Councillor could show up at LAS Committee, declare an interest and vote. For email addresses, follow links at http://www.calgary.ca/General/Pages/Calgary-City-Council.aspx

Ward 3 Councillor Jim Stevenson
Ward 5 Councillor Ray Jones
Ward 7 Councillor Druh Farrell
Ward 10 Councillor Andre Chabot
Ward 11 Councillor Brian Pincott
Ward 13 Councillor Diane Colley-Urquhart
Ward 14 Councillor Peter Demong

 

SOCIAL IMPACT ON PARKLAND

The Applicant complains of illegal and undesirable activity on Evamy Ridge. Since the retaining wall project opened up views along the escarpment, the undesirable activity at the south end of the parkland has largely evaporated. The applicant proposes to isolate the Ridge all over again with a buffer of heavy landscaping and a high wall or fence. Doing this removes Evamy Ridge from easy public scrutiny and may re-attract undesirable activity to the area. Making a problem area invisible is an old-school solution to a social problem like this one. All of the good new research in this field makes it clear that this is not a successful strategy from the point of view of the City. Instead, the entire escarpment, including Evamy Ridge and the encroachment area, should be opened up to park users passing through on parkland paths or driving by on the street. More eyes on the place, and more boots on the ground — not fewer.


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