Curtis Penner runs for mayor to bring attention to green space issue

Curtis Penner running for Edmonton mayor, in his neighbourhood of Erminskin, June 3, 2013. Cam Cook, Global News

EDMONTON – Curtis Penner has thrown his name into Edmonton’s mayoral race with the hopes of raising awareness about local green spaces.

“They’re being sold to developers, real estate developers,” Penner told Global News.

“I am a real estate developer, and so when I first saw this issue come up, it was actually an appraiser that was reporting that the municipal reserve immediately to the south of the condominium project that we had just completed would be built on.”

Penner was shocked because as far as he understood, municipal reserve land was dedicated to schools or parks.

“Unfortunately, it seems that if the school boards don’t actively use the land then … our council has taken the position that they have the right to sell the land on which the school would sit, for condo development.”

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The areas are classified as ‘surplus school sites’ and the city outlines how they are managed on its website.

“When new neighbourhoods are planned, land is set in reserve to meet the anticipated future need for schools, parks, and recreation,” the city’s website explains. “This land is serviced and made ready for development. Later, if a school board determines that land originally set aside for a school is no longer needed, the school board may declare it surplus.”

“Once the City acquires the surplus land, City Administration considers various options to re-purpose the site, now referred to as an ‘undeveloped building site.’ A new use is determined through a defined process.”

The sites can be used for the First Place Homebuyers Program, which helps first-time homebuyers purchase homes at market-affordable prices, the Seniors’ Housing Initiative, Municipal Purposes or Future Initiatives.

For more information on those options, click here.

“Since 2006, the City of Edmonton has acquired 40 surplus school sites. New uses on 29 of these sites have since been approved. Administration is currently developing recommendations for 11 more undeveloped building sites the City has acquired,” the city’s website states.

For more on the evaluation process for surplus sites, visit the City of Edmonton’s website.

However, Penner says citizens of Edmonton would like to preserve the space as park land. He is also the president of the Erminskin Community League, and says he’s tried to share these concerns with city council without any luck.

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“The city of Edmonton has not been listening to the people of Edmonton with respect to their parks. The one behind me is Erminskin Park, near where I live, and that park is for sale, and so are the parks of 160 other Edmonton communities.”

“When we began coordinating with city council on this issue, we believed that we would get a meaningful response from our elected politicians and from city staff. But after getting stone-walled for about two or three months from city staff on things that are mandated as being necessary both under city policy and under Alberta legislation, we realized that a whole bunch of communities have been down this road before. They’ve had their parks put up for sale, and they’ve had their parks sold, and they’ve had shovels go into the ground, all the while telling city council that they either wanted to keep the park, or they wanted to reinvest the proceeds, or they wanted to do this, or they wanted to do that. Nobody was getting listened to, and it appeared to be a divide and conquer strategy.”

Penner says the attitude of citizens after meeting with city staff led him to run for mayor.

“All of these people left city hall saying ‘well you can’t fight city hall.’ And so, if you can’t fight city hall, then perhaps we should be replacing the council that sits in city hall.”

“There has been a very closed process, with almost no open consultation with even the development community, let alone the city of Edmonton’s constituents, and our parks, our green spaces, which are legally called ‘surplus schools sites’ are one at a time being parceled out, sold to land developers, who build four storey condominium projects on them.”

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So, what about Penner’s platform outside green space preservation?

“We have to figure out how to live within our means, without taxing beyond our people’s means, and I think that’s enough, that’s enough of a platform.”

Penner adds he supports the city’s development of public transit but opposed the downtown arena project.

However, now that council has finally voted on a framework for the arena, he says it’s time to look ahead, not behind.

“Council has made a decision for good, bad, or otherwise, I think we all have to move forward as a city.”

Penner says, if elected, his focus for the arena project would be to “bring this project to fruition without increasing taxes yet again, at double the rate of inflation, as we’ve been doing for almost the entirety of Mandel’s term.”

“As much as I love the idea of a big expensive professional sports team and a really nice facility, this is where I spend time with my family,” he says, pointing to the park in his neighbourhood, “and this is where a lot of people who can’t afford to go to an Oilers game spend time with theirs. They don’t want to see this replaced with condominiums.”

“I think what the city of Edmonton really needs right now is civil servants who will serve their needs. The reason that I’m campaigning on this park issue is that I’ve been to meeting after meeting after meeting of hundreds and hundreds of Edmontonians all of whom wish to see their parks stay as parks, and despite of that they’re having their parks sold for condos.

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“There’s a disconnect between the needs of the community as are being voiced by the community and what our council is doing.”

For more information on Penner’s campaign, click here.

Stephen Mandel announced he would not seek re-election May 21.

Councillor Kerry Diotte is the only other declared candidate for the mayor’s chair.

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