Cliff Bungalow – Mission and Mount Royal Community Associations
To: The Residents of Cliff Bungalow – Mission and Mount Royal
We would like to respectfully correct the facts laid out in Mr. Don Taylor’s letter, as delivered by Mr. Terry O’Grady, to the communities of Cliff Bungalow-Mission and Mount Royal on February 12, 2013 so everyone can be working from the same fact sheet. And, as is always the case, there is another side to this issue which we would like to present. At the same time, we would like to reiterate that Mr. Taylor is a valued member of our community and we have supported and continue to support his building of his house on the amalgamated 3 lots.
All of the facts stated below have been derived from written documents pertaining to the history of this land.
Regarding the slide on the hill, Mr. Taylor (hereinafter referred to as the Applicant) was made aware of the instability of the adjacent slope area when the 2006 Golder Slope Study was completed. It showed that he needed the retaining wall as much as his neighbours. Protracted negotiations regarding the repair and payment for the retaining wall resulted in a shared cost arrangement between the City and ALL of the affected neighbours. In the letter, the Applicant says he was asked by the City to participate in order to contribute to the cost sharing. In fact, one of the options was ending the wall before the Applicant’s boundary if he did not participate. He opted into the arrangement because he needed the wall as much as the others to restore the development potential and land value of their properties.
The Applicant says he had an agreement with the City to purchase this parkland in exchange for participation in the costs of the retaining wall completed in 2013. We have asked for copies of the agreement and await their arrival. No other neighbour received additional benefits or a similar offer from the City to purchase additional parkland, even though the restricted covenants and easements due to the wall’s underpinnings on their properties are substantial. They also paid significant costs for their share of the wall, as did the Applicant. These restricted easements actually affect a much larger area on each of the other participating properties than on 638 Hillcrest. The Applicant was involved in the decision to angle the wall east quite substantially, resulting in the wall anchors being largely under the parkland. This restored the development potential for 638 Hillcrest.
The argument put forward that the Applicant was unaware of his property boundary and encroachment is not plausible, credible, legal, or relevant. The encroached lands deviate significantly from the property line on every map of the area, be they taxation, community boundaries or historical. The encroachment extends far to the east (by some 45 feet) beyond the registered north-south property of 638 Hillcrest. According to the Municipal Government Act, (section 609), historical use of the parkland by the adjacent owner does not give this owner any claim over the city owned lands.
Documents relating to the discussion show that in a 2006 memo, the City indicated to the Applicant that the communities of Cliff Bungalow-Mission and Mount Royal would need to be at least neutral for a proposal of this nature to receive approval, otherwise the land would remain parkland and be available to all Calgarians. There is no evidence of any consultation with Cliff Bungalow-Mission or Mount Royal by the Applicant at any time prior to the application to subdivide the parkland. The application was received on December 24, 2012 with comments by the affected communities to be submitted by January 7, 2013–a very short time frame over the holiday season.
A public meeting to discuss this application was hosted by the MRCA Development Review Committee on January 16, 2013. The meeting was attended by a representative of the Applicant. In this meeting the representative stated that the sale of the parkland would be going through, much to the surprise of the attendees. On December 9, 2013, three members of the Mount Royal Community Association Board met with the Applicant, his wife and a lawyer acting as a friend. The same message was repeated–the sale of the parkland would be going through. Where is the consultation?
Not only has there been a complete lack of consultation and transparency associated with this potential sale, there was a deliberate and private decision made to put this matter on hold until after the past fall municipal election was held, due to its controversial nature.
One very troubling fact is that, although the application seeks to fence off the parkland from public use, it stipulates that the proposed purchased land will retain its current zoning as parkland. This has the effect of avoiding the mandatory requirement for a public hearing associated with the zoning change, but does remove the use of the land from the public. The result is privately owned public parkland behind a private fence.
This is an historic and iconic viewpoint used by generations of Calgarians prior to the encroachment of the adjacent property. It comprises most of the usable flat land at the top of the escarpment. Aerial historic photographs show a parking area for the viewpoint and heavily used pathways for access to downtown. This parkland was a gift to the community in 1920 by the CPR with caveats attached. We wonder how inner city public parkland including an iconic and heavily used viewpoint under the protection of a comprehensive caveat and which was a gift to the community, can be subdivided and sold into private ownership without any consultation with the communities involved.
Unfortunately, private deals, inconsistency of the application of City rules, and challenges to the Area Redevelopment Plans continually pit neighbours against neighbours. This is not the first contentious issue that has been addressed in this neighbourhood and we ask the City to address the inequities, the lack of transparency, and the inconsistencies.
For some yet to be explained reasons, the tax assessment value on 638 Hillcrest was $49,500 in 2012 (this is not a typo and it rose to $63,000 in 2013). This property has been assessed as follows: 2009–$551,000; 2010–$551,500; 2011–$30,500; 2012–$49,500; 2013–$63,000–a fraction of the neighbouring values.
No other neighbour’s property approaches this low level of assessment and no reasonable explanation has been forthcoming in spite of a year’s worth of inquiries. This has caused extreme concern in the community and many questions about the preferential treatment of this property. The 2013 neighbouring assessments are as follows:
Hillcrest Avenue –#638–$63,000; #642–$1,490,000; #704–$4,030,000
Hope Street–#2224–$2,510,000; #2220–$1,280,000; #2216–$1,610,000; #2210–$4,800,000
Earl Grey–#625–$3,670,000; #619–$2,670,000; #615–$3,190,000
One of the lawyers acting for the Applicant said the reason is mould. The tax assessment department has informed us that mould is not a reason. We have not been given another explanation.
Finally, the Applicant says in his letter that the parkland is required as a buffer for privacy. We respectfully ask if that could quite easily be achieved within the 1.1 acre of land that has been amalgamated from the 3 lots. As an aside, the houses there have been vacant for several years. Fortunately, the unwanted activity at Evamy Park has not increased but occupation of the home(s) will most certainly have positive effects on the park, as will the completion of the construction and the landscaping for paths. People using the area and walking their dogs will bring eyes and ears back into the park and help to reduce the unwanted activity. We’re all anxious to be able to do that again.
It is our understanding that at a meeting with Mr. Chima Nkemdirim, the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, in mid January, 2014, one of the lawyers for the Applicant and a representative of the Applicant were advised that there is no binding legal agreement in place with the City. Some of the basic arguments and facts of this case were strongly challenged. The proposal that was subsequently sent by one of the lawyers for the Applicant to the community associations asks for over half of the original proposed purchase and asks to control issues related to the parkland, for instance, the placement of park benches. Much of the landscaping with fill that is mentioned in the proposal is actually not necessary.
Councillor Woolley has always advocated for stopping the sale of the parkland. He has addressed that in meetings with Mount Royal residents (also Cliff Bungalow-Mission) and during his campaign. He recently mentioned considering a compromise but one that was community driven, acceptable to the communities impacted, and one that was weighted in favour of the concept of a public parkland. Of course, the mechanics of selling parkland and rezoning it privately are really very complex, as we have been discovering.
The Cliff Bungalow-Mission and Mount Royal Community Associations have studied the proposal closely and have independently voted to reject this proposal. This proposal as it stands is not favourable enough to either community. At one meeting with one of the lawyer representatives, we discussed and were verbally offered the opportunity for the communities to work with the Applicant’s architect to develop some potential solutions jointly and collaboratively. We welcome the opportunity to participate in the joint development of a solution, as offered. At this meeting, we would be able to address many of the issues.
In closing, may we please add the following points of principle upon which this discussion has been based:
- The overriding principle at stake is one of the sale of public parkland. Does this mean that anyone who lives next door to a park can buy a piece of it to buffer themselves? Who decides and how much is paid? Is this open to a bidding process?
- Public parkland is not for sale without communities being consulted.
- Cliff Bungalow-Mission is underserved with respect to its parkland. The community has developed a very comprehensive plan to address this park and it does not wish to have it parcelled and sold out from under them.
- Transparency, clarity of policies, consistency of application of policies and bylaws, and enforcement of encroachment rules are all in question here in addition to the sale of public parkland.