Two years ago, Calgary city council approved plans to turn the former Highland Park Golf Course into a development that would be home to more than 2,000 residential units — but now a new drainage study made public on Friday has found the project poses a risk to public safety from overland flooding.
“Anecdotally, we had seen this site flood year after year after year,” said Highland Park Community Association president Elise Bieche. “We knew there was a significant amount of water coming through it and the regional drainage study validates all of that concern.
“I am just really glad there have been engineering and cost studies done, and there really is solid evidence to support what the community has seen on the site all along.”
The report recommends the city spend $130 million to increase storage capacity for Confederation Creek and dam safety retrofits. Some of the recommended work would be on the former golf course that is now owned by a Vancouver-based developer called Amble Ventures.
Bieche said the city should look at purchasing portions of the site that it needs for storm water storage purposes. She said the city needs to look at the area as a solution for the catchment.
“We are talking about the safety of human lives,” Bieche said. “We’re talking about the health of Nose Creek and we are talking about city coffers.”
As for future development, Bieche is not opposed to some form of the project going ahead.
“I think if the proper mitigation is in place and the economics are favourable, I don’t see why there couldn’t be some kind of development on the site — but I would say any development has to be site sensitive,” Bieche said. “It’s incumbent upon the landowner to figure out how he deals with the storm water on his site and he has a conversation with the city. I guess he has to go back and crunch some numbers and figure out what’s economically developable for him.”
READ MORE: How prepared is Calgary for major flooding?
It’s unclear what will happen to the land now.
Ward 4 Coun. Sean Chu said the developer always knew this project hinged on the drainage study, but Chu added that the city is going to have to come with millions of dollars to deal with drainage issues.
“Over time, the money I believe has to be spent because [of] the safety of the citizens,” Chu said.
Ajay Nehru, president of Amble Ventures, said the whole process has been “frustrating and disappointing.” The drainage report recommends that the city purchase a significant portion of the land to mitigate flooding in the area, but Nehru said he hasn’t heard back.
“I reached out the city on Friday afternoon, but they have not made me an offer to buy the land,” Nehru said.
He also said the report has added more uncertainty to a long process. He originally bought the land in 2013.
“Development is not possible if the city feels they need to have this site as a giant retention pond,” Nehru said on Saturday from Vancouver.
Residents who have been fighting against the development said it’s time to expose the hidden creek that was vaulted by the city in the 1970s.
“For the former golf course, we would love to see it being utilized for storm water storage, but we would also like to bring the creek out above daylight again,” said Simone Lee with Friends of Confederation Creek.
“It would do so much to improve the water quality that we would send down to Nose Creek and further on into the Bow River.”
Chu said the city will continue discussions with the developer and the community associations on a revised plan.
The city says its recommendation is that stormwater storage solutions be implemented on the site and that can be done by whomever owns the land.
“While it is now clear that the landowner will be unable to develop the Lands as contemplated in the conditionally approved outline plan, this does not necessarily mean that no development can occur on these lands once the identified stormwater solutions are implemented,” said Francois Bouchart, Director of Water Resources with the City of Calgary.