Councillors are recommending in favour of a plan for the rehab lands in Cole Harbour, but there are concerns the money won’t be there to make it happen.

Halifax regional council’s Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee considered the Rehab Lands Park Plan during its meeting on Thursday.

The 20.4-hectare property between Bissett Road and Bissett Lake is the site of the former Halifax County Rehabilitation Centre. The municipality decided to use the land for a park and conducted public consultation in 2021.

As the Halifax Examiner reported earlier this week, municipal parks staff recommended a network of multi-use paths, and features like look-offs, a meditative labyrinth, a fenced-in off-leash dog park, a nine-hole disc golf course, mountain biking skills trails, and a sledding hill for the winter.

“I love all of the different options that you have for this parkland,” Cole Harbour-Westphal Coun. Trish Purdy said.

“I think it’s going to be the best park in HRM. We have everything here.”

“Except a budget,” interjected another councillor.

Councillors want to keep the whole property

The first phase of park construction could happen next year, but there is no money budgeted for it.

Staff recommended carving off and selling parcels of land at either end of the site to partially finance the project. They recommended keeping one until the park was complete to see if it was needed for an expanded parking lot. They recommended the other, at the south end of the property, be sold.

“What would be the potential if we sold this? Someone would buy it, maybe there’s four houses that get built here,” Deputy Mayor Sam Austin said of that plan.

“That’s not going to be any kind of consequential, whereas once we give up the land, it’s gone forever.”

Austin moved to amend the motion to recommend that council not sell the parcels at either end of the site.

Coun. Tim Outhit warned that not raising that money could mean the park plan sits on a shelf.

“We have so many beautification plans, we have so many streetscaping plans, we have so many visionings that have been passed over the years and we all love them, and of course I’ll support this, it’s wonderful,” Outhit said.

“But without a budget, or without a funding source, or without a timeline for a budget, you’re setting expectations in your community that you can’t really look them in the eye right now, councillor, and tell them that this is going to happen a year from now, or 15 years from now.”

Former councillor, now MLA, supports plan

Cole Harbour-Dartmouth MLA Lorelei Nicoll, the former councillor for the area, told the committee she supported keeping the entire property. She said it’s important to honour the people who worked and lived at the rehab centre and the facilities that preceded it.

“The whole aspect of the mental health piece was very big for that reason, the meditation and all those areas that are being contemplated on this parcel is in honour of that. And I’m hoping there will be some signage in some way that’s going to express that to people,” Nicoll said.

“If anyone had stood on that property, you would know that the contemplative piece was what was needed.”

Nicoll told the committee Const. Heidi Stevenson contacted her just two weeks before she was killed about a need for that property as a way to improve people’s mental health.

“To have a space like that for residents to go to is very important,” Nicoll said.

Purdy said she felt there was no guarantee that any money from the land sales would go toward the project, and supported Austin’s amendment.

That amendment, and the main motion recommending council adopt the park plan and approve a new off-leash dog park for the lands, both passed.

Disc golfers all ‘fore’ it

Scott Guthrie, speaking as “a member of the disc golf community,” told councillors he’s in support of the rehab lands plan. He said HRM needs more disc golf courses, where players aim frisbees at baskets.

“We have one disc golf course in HRM. It’s on private land and of the extreme generosity of the property owner,” Guthrie said.

“As HRM, we need to secure lands that are publicly accessible for one of the fastest growing, most diverse sports in public today.”

Guthrie said disc golf has been around since the 1980s, founded in Winnipeg by kids throwing paint can lids into circles. But the pandemic was an “extreme change,” increasing popularity.

HRM ran a disc golf pilot on the Dartmouth Common last year, but Guthrie said it’s “the only big city in Canada that does not have a municipal-funded disc golf course.”

“We’re way behind the curve ball on this one,” he said.

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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