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1671 Sandy Point Road, which the city considered rezoning in 2017, is one of four properties that have been declared surplus. Image: File photo

Citizens ask Saint John not to develop Rockwood Park land

By Brad Perry May 30, 2024 | 6:01 AM

Community pushback continues after Saint John council declared part of Rockwood Park as surplus land.

As we first reported in February, councillors voted to declare four city-owned properties surplus.

That included 1671 Sandy Point Road, located near Harrigan Lake in Rockwood Park.

Friends of Rockwood Park presented to council’s growth committee this week calling for the motion to be rescinded.

Spokesperson Joan Pearce acknowledged the city is in a “tight spot” given the housing crisis and low vacancy rate.

“We all want to see Saint John prosper, but please do not let a rush to build houses and a tax base whittle away at the edges of the parks,” Pearce said in her presentation on Tuesday.

“Imagine the uproar if a quadrant of King’s Square or Queen Square were suddenly sold off to a developer.”

The city has declined to say what will happen to the property, though a staff report said the properties were identified as they “may be ready for sale for the purpose of re-development.”

This is not the first time the property on Sandy Point Road has been the target of possible development.

Back in 2008, a proposal came forward that would have seen 160 units built on that piece of property.

Staff recommended in 2011 that residential development be allowed in some areas of Sandy Point Road, including the property in question. However, council voted against the motion and decided to rezone 1671 Sandy Point Road as park zone.

In late 2017, the council at the time considered rezoning the land from park to mid-rise residential. Staff said a 60-unit development on the site could bring in as much as $211,500 in annual tax revenue.

However, Coun. Gary Sullivan later put forward a motion to stop the process, saying there was simply too much public opposition. His motion was passed with a 6-4 vote.

Joan Pearce is the spokesperson for Friends of Rockwood Park. Image: Submitted/Joan Pearce

Pearce said they also feel that residents were not given a meaningful chance to discuss the proposal before council voted on it.

Growth committee members endorsed a recommendation to declare the land as surplus during a closed meeting on Nov. 21.

Council voted on the motion during their Feb. 20 meeting, though the item was not added to the agenda until after the meeting began.

“We believe that the current council and those before it have not been transparent to the citizens,” said Pearce.

Pearce said selling and developing this land would impact the integrity of the park. It also raises environmental concerns, such as more clearcutting, increased runoff, and loss of habitat for animals and birds.

In addition to rescinding the original motion, Friends of Rockwood Park wants the city to consult with the public on every decision that could impact any land within municipal parks.

It also wants the city to develop a plan for the long-term preservation of Rockwood Park, including 1671 Sandy Point Road.

Committee members directed city staff to come back to them with a report at a future meeting.