Upon catching a glimpse of two concept plans for a revitalized College Park, area residents offered opinions that were as mixed as they were strong.
Christine Abe and Pat Bollenberghe of the MBTW Group unveiled the plans at a public meeting at the Delta Chelsea Hotel on Thursday, Nov. 22, with both based on intensive public consultation.
The plans offered diverging concepts for the $3-million park renovation, with water and skating features, new greenery, seating and other possibilities including lighting displays and even a movie theatre. There were also notions of an area specifically for dogs and a children’s play area, with residents divided on both.
Abe noted that at earlier consultation meetings, “people were split 50/50 on a flexible gathering space or a main event plaza and exactly 50/50 on a community plaza which would be a children’s space.”
The two proposals garnered plenty of questions and comments from those in attendance, who spoke of safety concerns, the need for more green space and some of the proposed features.
The one constant was a call from residents to turn the space into an ‘oasis’ where people could enjoy moments of serenity in a tranquil green space downtown.
Resident Jacquie Kangas said she had hoped for a greener space than either concept plan seemed to offer.
“It’s really a shame to see so much concrete,” she said. “The dogs have ruined this park as it is.”
She added more needs to be done to keep delinquent youth and other undesirables from dominating the park and opposed the installation of a movie screen and bright lights.
“This is a residential area,” she said. “The biggest green areas (in the concept plans) are for dogs and it’s three-quarters concrete and one-quarter grass.”
Others were concerned with safety issues, which they say have cropped up ever since fencing was erected around the park due to construction on the Aura condominium development.
“It’s only when they put the fences in that it started to go downhill,” said Dima Zreik. “It used to be very clean and safe and now it just seems to have changed.”
Fellow resident Helen Dimaras agreed, noting there was a notable wave of crime in the park over the summer, including stabbings and a robbery.
“In general, it’s a really hard place to police, even with the police (station) right across the street,” she said. “It’s a good community and we need something where the community can feel a sense of ownership, so it will be good to inject life into it.”
The concept plans would see the entire park area redeveloped, including areas currently owned by some local building owners. Ward 27 councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam is hopeful those building owners will take an active role in the redevelopment on the portions of the land they own.
“I think the property owners should be good neighbours; they stand to benefit from this too because their property values will go up,” she said.
Wong-Tam said Thursday’s public meeting came about following extensive public consultation and that the landscape architects created plans based on suggestions they had heard.
“Right now, it’s very conceptual, based on what (the architects) have heard,” she said. “They’re holding a mirror back up to the community and saying ‘this is what you said you wanted.’”
She noted, however, that coming up with a design that would please everyone was bound to be a challenge, particularly given the divided opinions on subjects such as areas specific to children and to dogs.
“We have three office towers and five condo buildings backing onto this park,” she said. “You’re looking at how to carve up a three-quarter acre area to make it work for 20,000 people.”
The councillor said a final meeting, complete with final renderings based on the feedback received at Thursday’s session, will take place next spring, most likely in May.