Can condos ‘disrespect’ a city park?

October 12, 2011
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At the very least, give them an award for creativity.

Guelph residents wrote impassioned letters and made pleas to city council this week voicing their opposition to a proposed condo building at 180 Gordon St., near the Speed River. One man summed it all up by saying the whole project is “downright disrespectful to… a very sensitive piece of land,” namely, a small park next door.

You see, it’s not that they’re opposed to a condo development in their neighbourhood — why, that’s preposterous, they love condos! — it’s that they feel condos beside a park honouring the memory of a woman killed by her partner is inappropriate.

Here’s the basics: A Toronto company wants to build a four-storey, 11-unit brick condo building in a vacant lot at the end of Water Street. It’s a big building, sure, but the Empire State Building this is not.

It’s also an infill project, which puts new housing on unused brownfield sites within the city rather than bulldozing more farmland at the edge of town. Most of us can agree that’s generally a good thing.

The problem is, the condos would be next door to Marianne’s Park, named after Marianne Goulden, a women’s shelter worker who was stabbed to death by her boyfriend in 1992. It was a horrific crime and renaming the park after Goulden was a poignant tribute.

But what I don’t understand is this: How is an overgrown vacant lot, which stands there now, a better way to honour the memory of victims of domestic violence?

The residents say they’re upset over zoning changes requested by the developer. Currently, the property is zoned for a gas station — but I struggle to think that would be a more suitable neighbour for Marianne’s Park.

It goes without saying people have a right to oppose developments in their city, and they have a right to speak up when they feel those projects are pushing too far beyond the boundaries of their neighbourhood’s character.

But pretending this is all about honouring abused women and children — rather than good, old fashioned NIMBY-ism — seems just a little bit disingenuous in the case of some critics of this proposal. Instead, in the case of some, it looks more like throwing whatever opposition you can at a project, and hoping something sticks.

One letter writer even suggested Marianne’s Park would be “violated by being overlooked by residences.” Really? More so than the thousands of cars, city buses and trucks that roar past the park mere feet away on Gordon Street every single day?

The park, after all, is a very public space in the middle of a busy, growing city. That it could forever remain without anything being built around it is a little far-fetched.

But people trying to fight a condo development across the street will say anything, it seems.

The project’s opponents are acting as if the condos would be built smack on top of Marianne’s Park, rather than leaving it untouched as proposed. And they act as if an upscale condo owner would be a more neglectful neighbour than an empty gravel lot currently used by idling taxies and police cruisers.

Reality, however, doesn’t seem to matter much in these kind of fights. It’s the same kind of mentality that inspired someone to write “Go home yuppie scum” on a billboard promoting new townhouses recently built in a vacant lot across from Goldie Mill.

Infill projects like these are only going to become more common as thousands more people move into this city and we need to pack more folks into less space. As sure as the sun rises, these kind of fights will become more common, too.

But this has to be one of the most creative arguments we’ve heard yet.

At least a few of the letter writers to council were honest enough to admit what this is really about — they fear the condos could be bought and rented out to, horror of horrors, students, who would surely bring mayhem and much suffering to the entire neighbourhood.

Greg Mercer is a Guelph-based writer. His column appears every third Saturday. He can be reached at greg_mercer@hotmail.com, and past columns can be read at gregmercer.ca

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