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Should there be community gardens in Port Moody's Art Wilkinson Park? Neighbours say no, and now the project is on hold

The president of the Glenayre Community Association says the park isn't a right fit for the 60 plots approved by the city two weeks ago
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Sean Ogilive, the president of the Glenayre Community Association, and Mike Fricker, its past president, say Art Wilkinson Park's udulating terrain and compact size make it a poor fit for a 60-plot community garden.

Community gardens are a lovely program in the right location, says the president of the Glenayre Community Association.

But that place isn’t in Art Wilkinson Park.

Sean Ogilvie said he and many others in the Port Moody neighbourhood tucked at the base of Burnaby Mountain were taken aback when city councillors recently voted to place a 60-plot community garden in its only multi-purpose park despite their opposition.

On Tuesday (Jan. 25), the decision was put on pause so council can meet further with residents to discuss the garden plan.

It’s not the first time dirt’s been thrown on putting a garden in Art Wilkinson Park that’s located right across from Glenayre Elementary on Glencoe Drive.

Last spring, council put a hold on the project shortly after approving it and another, smaller community garden near the city’s recreation complex along Ioco Road. 

While the latter’s 20 plots have already produced crops, an online community survey conducted in fall 2021 showed 61 per cent of respondents didn’t approve of the gardens at Art Wilkinson.

Their objections included concerns about traffic congestion, attracting bears and a general disinterest for such a project in a neighbourhood comprised mostly of single-family homes with plenty of space for private backyard gardens.

But, said Ogilvie, it’s a little more fundamental than that.

He said Art Wilkinson Park isn’t an appropriate location for 60 community garden plots covering approximately 650 sq. m. because they’d rob the well-established family neighbourhood of the only flat, open public space in the undulating green space which also features a hillock that’s a popular tobogganing destination for kids when it snows, a playground, tennis and basketball courts, a few picnic tables, a free little library, a community centre that also contains a daycare and hosts meetings for Cub Scout and Brownie troops, as well as a ceremonial cherry tree that was planted in 2018 to commemorate Glenayre’s 60th anniversary.

It’s a busy place.

“There’s not a lot of places for things like playing ball,” Ogilvie said, adding the expansive field at the elementary school across the street is often booked with organized activities like youth soccer matches and adult slo-pitch games so there’s limited opportunity there for free play.

Ogilvie said the remoteness of the neighbourhood also makes it a puzzling choice for gardens that are often intended for people in more dense, urban environs who might not have access to a piece of property to plant their own.

“You couldn’t find a better plan of putting it in a tucked-away corner of the city,” he said. “Who is this for?”

After inviting Mayor Rob Vagramov and members of council to a pair of meetings on Jan. 17 and 21 to show them the park and better explain the impact the garden plots could have, Ogilvie said he’s confident they now have a grasp of the neighbourhood’s concerns.

Coun. Steve Milani, who attended one of the sessions, said he was better “able to understand the nuances of the effect a community garden will have on the park.”

Coun. Zoe Royer agreed.

“I’m not convinced this is the best location,” she said. “Proximity is important.”

Ogilvie said another meeting with councillors is planned.

Coun. Amy Lubik said she’s confident a middle ground can be found, while Coun. Meghan Lahti suggested a smaller garden might be more appropriate for the site.

“I think we can achieve some wins,” she said.

One of those could be working with the community centre’s daycare to implement educational programs about gardening and food security, said Coun. Diana Dilworth.

Ogilvie said it’s important the park achieve its “highest and best use,” adding he hopes  there can be a solution “to support community garden programs, but not at the expense of the greater community.”