Cindy Haley has lived in her house for 32 years and has watched her children and the neighbourhood grow up in and around the woods behind her house, the same woods that town council is working to rezone for residential development.
“This is the only place in this end of town where we have this, these walking trails,” she said. “Old Town has the Oxbow, and closer to downtown has the nature trail. This is our nature.”
Last month, town council began a process that would see the area rezoned from institutional to residential to allow for a planned 20 houses to be built as an offshoot of McBryan Drive, called Fraser Place. The next steps include public consultation, as well as a series of approvals needed from the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs.
But that process is already going too fast for Haley, who said she has been picked as a representative of the concerned residents of the area.
“I’ve always walked back here,” she said. “I take a trip through the woods pretty much every day.”
Haley noted that although many people use the patch of woods between the houses and the river on a regular basis, many of the houses along Stewart Drive are either low-cost housing or owned by various governments.
“There are only about eight ratepayers living right along here,” she said. “It makes it hard to get a real lobby group going.”
While the land could now technically be used for anything from a school — indeed, it was originally intended for the new location of Harry Camsell School before the current location was chosen — to a jail or a treatment centre, Haley would like to see it re-zoned as green space.
“What I’m scared of is that they’re going to tear it all down, and then decide it costs too much to develop,” she said, adding that she feels a blighted landscape would be even worse than a development. “That’s what happened in 553 and over by the new hospital. They’re going to clear it and leave it, and then we’ll be stuck with it.”
Mayor Andrew Cassidy said that while he understands residents’ concerns, council has ultimately decided to move forward with rezoning the area in the hopes that it will lead to more homes and — hopefully sooner rather than later — more people living in the community.
“Fraser Place has been on the books for some time now,” he told The Hub last week. “We are confident Hay River will be growing, and we want to be proactive about that growth, instead of being forced to solve problems as they arrive in a reactionary way.”
He also explained that Fraser Place is one of several lots across the community that current council has tasked administration with entering into the list of land for sale for various types of development. Another development, called Evergreen, hasn’t been pushed forward at this time, he said, because of the high costs of getting services like water and sewer out to the industrial area where its located.
As for environmental concerns, Cassidy said there have been studies done and they indicate that about 60 per cent of the bank of the Hay River is as-yet undeveloped.
“You’ve got houses built and properties developed all the way down to the river on Riverside,” he said. “The plan for Fraser Place is not to develop all the way down to the water, and there’s a buffer-zone planned between it and the existing developments.”
Cassidy said the reaction has largely been “not in my backyard,” but also noted that council is very interested in making sure there is space available for investment in the community.
“We, as a council, feel that this town will grow, and we have to be ready and open for that,” he said. “It’s not a done deal by any means but at the end of the day, we hope to be able to create more opportunities in town for everyone.”
But as far as Haley is concerned, green space is a key ingredient for any community. She said she wishes the municipality would stick with its own plans for increased and protected areas and change the zoning accordingly.
“It promotes going outside and being active, and that concept of play for kids, which you really need to have,” she said. “That’s what makes it a home.”