Why is James Houlihan Park in Saanich just a huge, empty lot?
This was a question posed by a Twitter user on March 24 and it sparked a conversation about the 1.9-hectare rectangular park on Ferndale Road in Gordon Head.
“I think it should either be renewed with native plants, turned into a dog park (or) a community garden location. What are your ideas?” @quenchwines wrote.
Suggestions included a bike park, a sports field, a playground, waterslides or supportive housing.
The park is zoned for recreation and open spaces and a covenant protects it.
— Ned Taylor – Saanich Councillor & CRD Director (@CouncllrNTaylor) March 25, 2021
When the area was developed, then owner James Houlihan donated the lot for a park as part of the subdivision requirements, explained Coun. Judy Brownoff, chair of Saanich’s parks, trails and recreation advisory committee.
In the 1990s, a park plan was drafted for the site, but the neighbours weren’t on board and since then, the community hasn’t asked for anything to be established there, she said.
I figured. But who knows, maybe there’s more appetite for change now that we know grass isn’t the best use of land. Even just returning it to native species would be beneficial for all.
— Rayna (@QuenchWines) March 25, 2021
Coun. Ned Taylor, the former chair of the parks advisory committee, looked at it in 2019 because he was interested to see if the community would be receptive to something being done with it.
The committee supported doing something with the park but no recommendations were brought to the council level, he said.
Taylor would be interested in seeing tree planting or environmental restoration projects take place along with the potential for benches and further trails.
Since Saanich has seen a “rise in park visitation over the pandemic,” he opened the conversation with residents once again using Twitter. “Hey, Saanich would you like to see this park used for something?” he posted.
Chris Poirier-Skelton, president of the Gordon Head Residents’ Association, said neighbours have worked hard to safeguard the longstanding covenant on the property.
In the past, proposals to add community gardens or park infrastructure have come forward, but residents have turned them down, she said. “It’s a nice idea,” but there would be many hoops to jump through.
If there was community interest in bringing something new to James Houlihan Park, residents could come forward and parks staff could add it to their work-plan, Brownoff said. It would then come to the parks advisory committee and eventually to council.