A proposed wilderness park in Purcell’s Cove is one step closer to reality following a Tuesday vote at council.
Members of council voted 14-1 in support of further negotiations with the private landowner, the Shaw Group. Councillor Gloria McCluskey was the only holdout on the proposed 379-acre park.
The park is a joint pitch to the city from the Shaw Group and the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
The Shaw Group wants to sell the city 170 acres, the nature conservancy would buy the remaining 209 acres and then lease that to the city for 99 years. The proposed sale price isn’t being released while staff continue negotiations, but the report requires staff to reach a fair market value or better.
The land is currently valued at $1.5 million, according to the annual public assessment. However, property records show the company bought the land for more than triple that price in 2011, spending $4.7 million on it. Since the 2011 purchase council rejected a bid to develop the lands, but development has been banned on the property since before the 2011 purchase.
“They bought it trying to get permission to develop it, couldn’t, and now they want to download it,” McCluskey said.
She said she couldn’t support the staff proposal because she doesn’t know how much it will cost.
The discrepancy in the Shaw Group’s purchase price compared to the current valuation raised questions from councillors about what the final price will come to. Speaking after the meeting, Councillor Lorelei Nicoll said council can still veto the park if the price comes in too high.
“It has to come back to council and we’ll see whether the negotiation was successful or not,” Nicoll said.
A wilderness park in the area isn’t considered a “need,” according to the staff report, but it says it presents an “opportunity” for the municipality because of the “ecological value” of the land.
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How council handles this case and the final purchase price for the land could set a precedent for other proposed parklands. For example, the Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes area is zoned similarly and there is a heated debate over how much the city should pay to buy it from the private landowners in the area.
The price tag could also influence council’s ability to establish other parks that are already in the queue. Another report on how it would fit into the green network plan will bring some clarity to that issue, Nicoll said. She added that the “context” of the city’s regional plan will be important when councillors make their final decision.
Another request from the Shaw Group is for naming rights for the park; it appears that will also be met with heated debate if it is part of the final proposal. Councillor Linda Mosher said naming rights are “non-negotiable” if Halifax is buying the land. She said if the Shaw Group was donating it then it would be a different discussion.
It’s expected that the final decision on the proposed wilderness park in Purcell’s Cove will be made by the next council. The municipal election is on October 15.