A unique piece of parkland has led to a different sort of park plan for the City of Nanaimo.
Staff presented a draft plan for East Wellington Park to councillors at a committee of the whole meeting on Monday. Because the park is on the Agricultural Land Reserve on East Wellington Road, the city needs to submit an application to the Agricultural Land Commission. Staff, through consultation with the community and stakeholders, has developed a park management and action plan that considers environmental conservation and restoration, agricultural production and other goals, according to a staff report.
The report notes that the city acquired the 12.7-hectare park in 2014 as part of a land-exchange agreement “to expand the Millstone Greenway, a planned network of green space and trails along the Millstone River.”
East Wellington Park can support nesting habitat and is considered “environmentally sensitive,” said Madeleine Koch, city parks and open space planner, adding that seasonal flooding occurs at the site.
Rob Lawrance, city environmental planner, said the plan calls for a 30-metre riparian buffer along the Millstone. He suggested the riverbank is “highly degraded” and work would include planting trees and installing fencing.
“This is really part of a bigger picture around climate adaptation and mitigation by doing the enhancements to improve the riparian area,” he said. “And we see this as a great opportunity to work with the agricultural community, looking for opportunities to kind of mould [together] agricultural practice and environmental restoration.”
The park plan also includes an off-leash dog area, a loop trail, and a concrete pad to support astronomy activity.
Coun. Ben Geselbracht said he loves the plan, including the agricultural and riparian restoration components, and Coun. Ian Thorpe said he supports what staff has come up with considering the ALR constraints, environmental sensitivities and flooding.
“It’s not appropriate for what we might call traditional park usage, in other words, playgrounds and sports fields and so on, so it’s an opportunity, I think, to be able to use it for more unique opportunities,” Thorpe said.
The staff report noted Vancouver Island University and Nanaimo Foodshare have expressed interest in partnering with the city on “agriculture, horticulture, experiential learning and/or research” at the park.
As far as astronomy amenities, in addition to the telescope pad, Koch said there may be an arbour or some other structure installed to block light, and she added that there has been preliminary discussion about East Wellington Park’s potential to receive ‘urban star park’ designation from the Royal Astronomy Society of Canada. Long-term, that might entail the city working with the RDN on limiting light pollution in the surrounding area, she said.
Staff noted that many users currently allow their dogs to be off-leash at the park, contrary to bylaws, and half of city survey respondents asked for the park to be an off-leash park.
“Both the environmental report and the ALC note concerns with any dog off-leash use not secured by appropriate fencing, due to potential conflicts with sensitive wildlife and adjacent agricultural livestock,” the report notes.
Dogs would be allowed on-leash throughout the park, Koch said.
Coun. Jim Turley mentioned that he sits on the Regional District of Nanaimo Agriculture Advisory Committee and said in his experience, “the success rate is very minimal” on non-farm-use applications to the ALC.
“I’m almost thinking, looking at this, that the one thing that’s probably going to have to get turfed is the off-leash dog area; I’d be surprised if the ALC went along with that, in fact, I’d be shocked,” he said.
Nanaimo city councillors voted unanimously in favour of recommendations to direct staff to collect feedback on the East Wellington Park management and action plan and submit a non-farm-use application to the ALC.