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Threat of development a ‘wedge issue’ for a Vancouver park commissioner

One of Vancouver's park commissioners says he fears a decision by the park board to look into three public golf courses and see if they should be changed to parkland is just a prelude to selling off the land altogether.

"I'm still very concerned about repurposing the golf course into a park and then removing parcels of the park," John Coupar said.

His response to the board's decision Monday night to analyze how well the golf courses are being used was to issue a notice of motion for the next meeting, asking for the board to "develop strategies and legal means to insure that parks and green spaces are protected in perpetuity."

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The Vancouver park board has a mandate to protect the city's green space. But out of the city's more than 200 parks, only Stanley Park is truly protected, he said. All the others can be removed from the city's inventory with two-thirds majority votes from city council and the park board, Mr. Coupar said.

"I think our parks really require more protection than that," he said.

His notice of motion is a response to fellow park commissioner Aaron Jasper's successful motion for city staff "to compile and report back usage and revenue metrics" for three public golf courses – Fraserview, McCleery and Langara.

Mr. Jasper's motion passed after heated debate and the addition of an amendment, which stated that current golf course land would not be used for housing.

Park board chair Sarah Blyth said she voted in favour of the amended motion.

"So we've made that commitment," she said. "That was our commitment all along."

Mr. Jasper said he wants the board to conduct a review of the public golf-course operations so they can determine the best use for the land. It could mean keeping the current 18-hole golf courses with improvements to management, downsizing the courses to add spots for playing fields, or other potential solutions, he said.

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"The intent here was never to set up a discussion or open the door for any of the golf courses – or any park land – to be sold off for condo development," Mr. Jasper said.

"I think [Mr. Coupar's] motion is a bit of political grandstanding," he said, adding that this administration's actions have not threatened the board's mandate to protect the public parks.

Mr. Coupar, who voted against the majority, isn't convinced that is true.

"I was very concerned … that this motion to look into the golf course metrics was the first wedge into parks by Vision Vancouver," said Mr. Coupar, who is affiliated with NPA.

Paul Faoro, president of the union representing the city's golf-course employees, said he is troubled by how the original motion's message has been warped. He said he supports Mr. Jasper's motion to explore opportunities for growth and improvement within the golf courses.

"This has been charged politically," he said. "There is some deliberate attempt to whip up this issue and make it a wedge issue."

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The motion does not address closing the golf courses or condo development, he said, which he does not believe the city would do.

But Mr. Coupar said "these things tend to happen in steps over time.

"I think you always have to be very wary of the first steps."

The board meets next on July 17.

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