Council gives Chemainus skate park unanimous go-ahead

After impassioned pleas both for and against, North Cowichan council voted unanimously Wednesday to build a skate park at the old Chemainus Elementary School site, with construction to begin as soon as possible.

The decision brings to a close a process that has taken more than a decade.

Starting off the meeting were presentations in support of the skate park from Lynda Poirier and Kidsport Cowichan’s Deb Savory Wright.

"It’s show time folks," said Poirier as both she and Savory Wright argued that the park will provide a healthy, welcoming place for youths to gather and get physical activity.

The two pointed out that the location in the middle of the community bodes well for its success, as it’s accessible and visible.

The visibility is important, Poirier argued, as it means the facility won’t attract the drug dealers and bad behaviour many are afraid will come with a skate park.

Numerous community members then stepped up to the microphone, expressing both support and opposition.

"This park is on very, very expensive land," said Geoff Service, a neighbour of the site.

He argued that the land would be better used to build housing and create revenue for the municipality, citing figures of $800,000 possible profit from the skate park site if it was sold as residential lots.

He estimated that very few youths would use the park, possibly 10 to 20 and that spending money on a facility for so few would be "insane".

At other skate parks, "I see a max of three or four at one time, if any at all."

"We are strongly opposed to this location," said another speaker, who pointed to a petition against the construction signed by 77 residents.

The resident said foes are not "out of touch, youth-averse pensioners", they are people facing a level of noise that would be a serious nuisance.

"We and our neighbours feel this is entirely the wrong place for it," agreed Bernice Ramsdin, who said that as an artist and author she highly values the peace and quiet.

"We, as older people, are also in need of consideration," she said. "A very noisy activity is about to be forced upon us."

Lilli Young, a BB owner in the area, said she’s worried that her investment will be jeopardized by a disruption of the peaceful, relaxing atmosphere, and that the park will drop her property’s value.

But not all of the neighbours think the park is a bad idea.

A neighbour who has lived in his home for 15 years and described the old school site as his backyard said he’s all for the new facility.

"If you live beside a school, there’s going to be noise," he said. "It is good for the community, good for the kids."

Arlene Robinson of the Chemainus advisory committee disputed the idea that there won’t be many users, saying a sign-up tallied at least 65.

Sylvia Benjamin, a teacher at Chemainus Secondary, said the elementary school site is the one supported by the teens.

"They are so excited," she said. "They need this place."

Neil Owen has a direct view of the site from his home.

"I am 100 per cent in favour of it," he said. "That’s where it should be," in the middle of the community.

Ruth Schiller expressed frustration at suggestions that other sites be reconsidered to find the right one.

"Where is that? We’ve been at every site possible."

Tongue in cheek, she then issued a warning about promoting the spot for residential development.

"There might be children in those houses," she exclaimed.

Councillors reiterated many of the points made by the public.

Coun. Kate Marsh said that communities everywhere are spending millions of dollars to buy land for recreation and the school site is a golden opportunity to save money on this front.

"To me it seems kind of goofy to sell it," she said about the idea of saving it for residential development.

She also pointed out that residents, who bought homes near a school, should have the expectation that there would be youthassociated noise in the area.

"I can’t see that the noise is as big an issue as it is made out to be," said Coun. Al Siebring.

His biggest concern was that flush-toilet washrooms be built at the site sooner rather than later. His motion to that effect was also passed.

Coun. Barb Lines said in considering her position, she wondered what her response would be if she had a 12-year-old daughter who wanted to go to a skate park at Fuller Lake Arena, where many of the opponents advocate that it should be built.

She said she came to the conclusion that the spot is just too isolated and she would be concerned about safety.

"In spite of how people fear it’s going to affect them, I would be supporting the skate park," she said.

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