Mayor John Ruttan reflects on the city's announcement to purchase land next to Linley Valley Park.

Mayor John Ruttan reflects on the city's announcement to purchase land next to Linley Valley Park.

Nanaimo to acquire 89 hectares of parkland in Linley Valley

NANAIMO – The city has signed option agreements to acquire 89 hectares of land in Linley Valley.

Nanaimo city officials made an 11th-hour save of Linley Valley West after all.

The City of Nanaimo announced Monday it plans to spend $9 million to acquire and develop 89 hectares of parkland in Linley Valley.

It entered into a series of option agreements for five separate properties that, if joined with existing green space, will create Nanaimo’s largest urban park.

The move is applauded by Joanne Jonas-McRae, founder of Save Linley Valley West, who has been working for more than three years to preserve the area from development.

But the recent action is also an about-face from the city’s previous stance not to purchase Linley Valley West for park. During an open meeting last October, Mayor John Ruttan told the gallery that if there was hope the municipality would at the 11th hour find the opportunity to purchase the property, “we can’t and we won’t be.”

According to Ruttan, circumstances have now changed, from the affordability and opportunity to buy land, to public pressure and the time frame to make a decision.

“A lot of it was trying to diffuse what we were doing behind the scenes,” he said of his previous statement. “We just didn’t want to increase focus and optimism among certainly the landowners. It was difficult for us to negotiate this candidly and quietly … with all the public pressure that was being put on.”

The question of purchasing parcels of land in Linley Valley has been making it onto council meeting agendas since 2011, when Save Linley Valley West advocates first became concerned about  the effects of development on the ecology of the area.

This week city council announced it plans to tap into reserves to secure five parcels of land that would expand Linley Valley into a 149-hectare park. The only property the city remains uncertain it can buy is 5260 Tanya Dr., which currently has another offer.

The mayor, who voted for the purchase, said time will make the big determination about whether the purchase is worthwhile, but points out there are very few large tracts of undeveloped land left within city boundaries. Circumstances had changed to make the acquisition a priority, including pending subdivisions and the city’s ability to fund the project internally in the wake of negotiations.

“It just seemed that if we wanted to take advantage of what likely is the last large piece of land available for park use, it was now or never. They were logging it,” Ruttan said.

“Maybe from a business standpoint having all those homes built and jobs generated and property taxes paid may have been something worth considering as well but the majority of council decided trying to keep the land raw … would be the most desirable for the community.”

The in-camera meeting minutes from which the city entered into the agreements has not yet been made public. City council must amend its financial plan. The properties the city plans to buy include: 3518 Hillside Ave.; 5260 Tanya Dr.; 5600 Vanderneuk Rd.; 3842 Stronach Ave.; and 3651 Rock City Rd.