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Linley land purchase could reduce Nanaimo’s costs

Mayor John Ruttan reflects on the city
Mayor John Ruttan reflects on the city's announcement to purchase land next to Linley Valley Park.
— image credit: TAMARA CUNNINGHAM/The News Bulletin

Nanaimo isn't just buying a piece of parkland – it's impacting development of the city, inside and outside the park.

City council voted Monday to proceed with the $7.6-million purchase of five properties totalling 89 hectares which will more than double the size of Linley Valley Cottle Lake Park.

"When you look at what was happening there, it wasn't that developers might want to look at it in the future – developers were looking at it [now]," said Mayor John Ruttan. "There were bulldozers going down there, there were trees coming down."

Only Coun. Bill McKay voted against the purchase, maintaining that the issue should have gone to referendum.

Ruttan said one of the property owners was insistent on selling within 30 days.

"That pretty well precludes any kind of a referendum or alternative approval process from the electorate," the mayor said.

Coun. Bill Bestwick said he thinks the park purchase will actually save money. City engineers had been suggesting a need for a connector road between Rock City Road and Burma Road in the coming years.

"We were going to drive that 100 line right through there … It would probably have cost us about $12 million," said Bestwick, adding that if people have to "drive slower on Hammond Bay to get where you're going, well, you can thank or criticize us for not driving that 100 line through there."

Coun. Jim Kipp said the park purchase increases property values, and said reducing the land base could lead to density in other parts of town. He pointed out that the city's water supply will now go further than anticipated, and highlighted other potential savings.

"Imagine the long-term asset management of that 100 line road, all the sewer pipes, all the water, all the steep property, all the snow removal we'd have to do, all the garbage pickup in that area," Kipp said. "We're going to save money on this acquisition and protect land for the future."

The city is paying three times the assessed value for the Linley Valley parkland, but Coun. Fred Pattje said since the property was within the urban reserve, its B.C. Assessment value didn't reflect its true worth.

"Ultimately the market gets what it's asking for," Pattje said.

The $7.6 million will come from a variety of sources, including some short-term borrowing and several different reserve funds. Jim Taylor, Nanaimo Ratepayers Association president, criticized the spending model.

"If the argument for putting this overtaxation in different reserve accounts is having money available for a dedicated purpose and then those accounts can be raided at the whim of council, then all that overtaxation should just go into one big slush fund," said Taylor.

Ruttan said the city staff determined the "fairly complex mix of different funds" for the park purchase. He said the funding model was necessary because of the time constraints, and said since the money comes from reserves, it shouldn't impact the budgets of any city departments.

Whatever the price, council believes it got a bargain. Coun. Diane Brennan said Linley Valley Cottle Lake Park is iconic and meaningful to Nanaimo, and Coun. Ted Greves thinks it will be a sort of Central Park for the city someday.

"Twenty years from now, they're going to look at that piece of property and they're going to say, 'How much did they pay for that? Is that all?'" Greves said.

sports@nanaimobulletin.com

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