Harrison Hot Springs residents are concerned about what will happen to parking in the village, if council decides to sell off the majority of the grass lot next to the village office.
On Monday (Aug. 12), council voted to begin the rezoning process for six of the eight lots currently being used as an overflow parking lot off Hot Springs Road and Miami River Drive. Currently the lots are zoned P1, for community use, but council is hoping to have them rezoned to allow for high-density residential with commercial spaces on the ground floor, up to a maximum height of three storeys.
“I look at this and I think the reason I’m excited to do the rezoning, if we’re able to do so, is that if we’re going to sell the land, I want to get the maximum amount of money that we can,” Coun. Gerry Palmer said, “rather than sell it to someone who buys the six lots then comes to us and rezones it up and doubles the value.”
Currently, the lots are primarily used during festivals like Sasquatch Days, Canada Day and the Harrison Dragon Boat Regatta, when parking on the village’s main streets runs at capacity. According to Coun. Ray Hooper, he counted 219 cars in the lot during this year’s dragon boat regatta.
Although the two lots closest to Miami River Drive are designated as park land, and would remain so even with the rezoning, the area appears to be rarely used as a green space. The most recent community event held at the lot was the Harrison Fire Department’s impromptu splash park on Aug. 7.
Changing the lots’ zoning to allow for high-density development would increase their value to future buyers — which is exactly what council is hoping for if they get federal grant funding for a new cultural hub.
In January of this year, Harrison council voted to move forward with a grant proposal for a civic and cultural hub. Estimated to cost $4 million, the building would include a public gathering space, an area for cultural sharing, pop-up exhibits from the Agassiz-Harrison Museum and administrative space for council and staff.
“It’s something I think is going to be well-used in our community,” mayor Leo Facio said during council.
The hub would be built beside the current village office on land currently being used as the overflow parking lot; the village office would remain as a municipal building, possibly for use by organizations like the Harrison Festival Society and the Kent-Harrison Arts Council.
The cultural hub isn’t the only local application for the Investing in Canada Infrastructure program; the District of Kent is also waiting on the results of the grant for their indoor aquatic centre proposal.
So far, the results of the grant are still up in the air, although Facio expects the village will hear the results of the funding application before the federal election this October.
If Harrison is successful in the application, it will be responsible to pay between $2 million and $2.5 million for the cultural hub. Selling some of the lots from the overflow parking lot would help pay for that expense.
At the meeting, Hooper and several of the residents spoke about the potential parking problems that would come from the sale of these lots.
“My concern is with the parking is that people are going to have trouble getting their boats and trailers out of their properties … because of inconsiderate parking,” Hooper said. Hooper had spoke against the proposed sale back in January for the same reasons.
Harrison resident and former councillor John Buckley, also spoke against the proposed sale.
“We realize that Harrison has been discovered,” he said. “We’ve done our damnedest to bring people into this town, and I know by not providing ample parking, a lot of them won’t come back.”
“That parking lot is vital; we need it,” another resident, who did not share his name, said. “We’ve all agreed that Harrison is being discovered and more and more people are coming to Harrison.”
“If we lose this parking, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot, big time.”
Buckley and others asked about potential parking lots that had been proposed on Mount Street (a plan that came from the previous council) and Echo Avenue. These proposals were mentioned in the village’s Transportation Master Plan, approved Monday night.
So far there is no decision on whether either of these parking lots would be built, and how many parking spaces would be included if they were.
Although most residents at the meeting were opposed to the proposed sale and its potential ramifications, one spoke in favour of it.
“Most of the parking, especially on my street, is city-owned. It’s sidewalk, but it’s basically from the city,” he said. “If seven days a year, it’s a problem for some people, well maybe they should lighten up a little.”
The end of the meeting did not see any particular resolve in the differences of opinion about the parking needs of the community. However, as Palmer pointed out during the meeting, the sale of the lots is not set in stone yet.
“We’re proceeding with this if we get our grant for our cultural space,” he said. “If we don’t get the grant it’s a different game. We may have rezoned the property, but it’s a different circumstance.”
“This obviously follows the intention of going ahead with the building, and the building is only going to happen if we’re able to get the grants that we applied for.”
All council voted to do Monday night was begin the process to change the zoning of the site. The zoning and Official Community Plan amendments were given first and second reading, with Hooper voting in opposition, and will be sent to the Fraser Valley Regional District to ensure the change conforms to its growth strategy as well as the advisory planning committee.
A public hearing is planned, although there’s no word yet on when it will be.