Central Park: Hastings-Sunrise park battle heats up

A coalition of community groups is threatening city council with legal action if the governance of Hastings Park is returned to the PNE.

A special meeting of council was scheduled for Aug. 1, after the Couriers press deadline.

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In a last-ditch effort to sway the powers that be at city hall, a press conference was held Wednesday morning at Hastings Park to put pressure on council to choose the park board as the new governing body of the property. The press conference was organized to demonstrate what the community groups call a compelling legal argument for park board governance of Hastings Park.

Hastings Park is governed by the non-profit PNEs board of directors, but is undergoing a massive $310.5 million redevelopment, so the question of just who should manage the park is on the table.

While city staff and an independent auditor have recommended governance remain with the PNE, some residents and community groups want the park board to take control. A third option is to have a city department, such as engineering, manage the property.

In an email to the Courier earlier this week, Sherry Breshears of the Hastings Community Association wrote: The Vancouver Charter requires park board governance of all Vancouver parks. City council would need to decommission Hastings Park and violate its trust agreement if they want the PNE to be permanently in charge.

Breshears added: Until now, the city has relied on provincial legislation that enables the PNE and other businesses to operate within the public park. The legislation only speaks to land use, it does not change the status of Hastings Park as a public park. Clearly, council had not considered their obligations under the Charter of Vancouver regarding park board governance. If they adopt the recommendation for PNE governance, we will have to consider legal action.

Several residents as well as members of community groups including Hastings Community Association, Hastings Park Conservancy, Nature Vancouver, Confratellanza, Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver and West Coast Christian School attended the press conference at Il Giardino (the Italian Gardens) at Hastings Park.

In May, Vision Vancouver park board vice-chair Aaron Jasper brought forward a motion, passed unanimously, recommending the board lobby for control of Hastings Park. This is not the first time the park board has sought control of Hastings Park. In 1994, the board also unanimously passed a motion seeking governance of the 120-acre park.

NPA commissioner Melissa De Genova released a statement Wednesday that reads in part: The Vancouver Charter states in section 4.88, The board shall have exclusive possession of, and exclusive jurisdiction and control of all areas designated as permanent public parks of the city. Hastings Park is our Stanley Park of the East and under park board governance it could reach its full potential by providing greater access to green space, create new recreational and revenue opportunities and continue to support the PNE.

NDP MP for Vancouver-East Libby Davies and NDP MLA for Vancouver-Hastings Shane Simpson released a joint statement Wednesday on the governance that read in part: The PNE is very good at its core purposes, facilities and event management, and the annual fair, they have grown less than adequate on more traditional parks and recreation initiatives. It has become clear that PNE decisions regarding the site have consistently been made through the lens what is best for the PNE and its operations It has also meant that there have been essentially no investments in programming for community use in Hastings Park.

sthomas@vancourier.com

twitter.com/sthomas10

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