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The future of a major part of Coquitlam's past is up for discussion starting on Wednesday.
On Monday at the council-in-committee meeting, BC Housing outlined its plans to meet with health authorities, stakeholders and the public to hear views on the next steps for Riverview Hospital, a 244-acre site described by Mayor Richard Stewart as "extremely precious to Coquitlam."
Its first presentation is to be Wednesday afternoon before the city's Riverview Lands Advisory Committee, which includes representatives from Tri-Cities' Mental Health and Addictions, the Riverview Horticultural Centre Society and the Coquitlam River Watershed Society as well as former Riverview staff.
The launch of BC Housing's "visioning process" comes two weeks after Premier Christy Clark told civic politicians at the Union of BC Municipalities' convention that the government won't reopen the shuttered, 101-year-old institution — not even in a modern form.
The visioning study also comes a year after the province released its Heritage Conservation Plan for the hospital lands, a process Coun. Craig Hodge, chair of Coquitlam's Riverview committee, described as "rushed."
At Monday's meeting, Shayne Ramsay, CEO of BC Housing, said while Shared Services BC operates Riverview, BC Housing has been tasked to look at its future. Ramsay stressed the agency wants a "balanced scenario" with a "collaborative approach" to the site's social, economical and environmental aspects.
There is no time frame for when the public consultation will wrap up, Ramsay said.
And while he didn't talk about selling off Riverview lands, he said any redevelopment would have to "break even" given the extent of the investment.
That means costs associated with its future use — including heritage building restoration and infrastructure upgrades — must come from revenue generated from the property.
He said Riverview isn't part of the province's surplus of disposal lands. As well, he said, its current footprint will stay intact — a comment welcomed by council members, including Coun. Terry O'Neill, who praised BC Housing for starting a "well-informed and meaningful consultation."
"People in Coquitlam have been waiting years now," O'Neill said.
Mayor Stewart said Riverview Hospital should stay as a mental health facility while Hodge said the province needs to turn its attention to the care of the buildings.
"They need to be maintained for the future," Hodge said, adding economic development is something his committee wants "as long as it's done properly."
Coun. Brent Asmundson said Coquitlam has been back and forth with the government about Riverview's future. Decades ago, the province sold off a chunk of land for townhouses and failed to reinvest, he said. Later, under the NDP, a visioning study started but it was dropped. And a few years ago, BC Liberal Housing Minister Rich Coleman suggested market housing but that was rejected.
"The public of Coquitlam takes with great trepidation this visioning process," Asmundson said, adding, "Mental health is something very dear to our hearts."
Coun. Mae Reid cautioned Ramsay she has heard plenty of lip-service over the years from Victoria when she chaired the city's Riverview advisory committee. And she called the province's lack of action on Riverview "demolition by neglect."
Coun. Neal Nicholson, the vice-chair of the Riverview committee, said the visioning process won't work unless everyone is involved. "It has to be a credible approach and that can begin with the preservation of the buildings," Nicholson said, noting senior government politicians also need to commit to Riverview's future.
Minister Coleman was not available for an interview but, in a statement issued yesterday, he noted Riverview's "great historic and strategic value" to Coquitlam, the First Nations and the province.
"We are proposing that stakeholders establish a common approach to guide the broader public consultations that begin in 2014. We have been clear that this process will not be determined by the province alone. This commitment has not changed," he said.
"Our intention is to proceed carefully with future land use planning, reflecting the importance of the property to those involved and including the view of stakeholders and the public," Coleman said. "The objective is to achieve a master development plan that balances community aspirations, government requirements and economic sustainability."