We just received an “auto-response” email from the City of Vancouver’s Andrew Wroblewski. He’s the project facilitator for the Notre Dame Open House. We wrote to ask him when the Open House might happen.
It turns out it’s postponed until sometime in April. One reason for the delay is that the school is now required to do a traffic study.
It’s good to see that our concerns about McCarthy Stadium traffic and parking are having an impact. The updated traffic study is an important step in the right direction.
However, it’s not clear about the scope of the traffic study. After reading his email, you may want to ask Mr. Wroblewski a few questions.
To Whom It May Concern;
In the past few months, we have heard concerns from the community with respect to the Notre Dame sports field. This email is to provide information and an update on this development that is currently under review.
The school will be hosting an open house to engage the community and ensure that their concerns are heard. While we originally estimated that the open house would be held in late January or early February, it has come to our attention that Notre Dame will need more time to prepare for an open house based on the community feedback we have heard so far. Some of this preliminary work will take time, including the preparation of an updated traffic study, therefore; we are now targeting a post-spring break open house in early April. Please be assured that no decision on the application will be made prior to our notification process, the opportunity for the community to provide feedback for staff review and the open house.
A postcard delivered to the neighbourhood will arrive by mail in early March, providing further details on the open house and details on how to provide feedback.
Yours truly, Andrew Wroblewski | Project Facilitator firstname.lastname@example.org 604-673-8460
We should take a moment to digest what is happening here.
In mid-August, orange fences went up around trees on 2800 Parker Street. At any moment, the Lombardy poplars along Kalso Street could have been cut and Notre Dame free to begin work on McCarthy Stadium. All this might have happened with a simple yes from the City with no public discussion.
Notre Dame and the City seemed to think this was acceptable because in their view, McCarthy Stadium was simply a change from a grass field to an artificial turf field, needing only a minor amendment to the existing permit.
How the Notre Dame sports field went from a grass practice field to the much more extensive McCarthy Stadium is complicated. The diagram above provides a simple way to understand what happened.
Several things become clear, including the fact that in March 2006 the school withdrew its plan for a stadium and told residents that, if they did eventually decide to revisit the idea, they would apply for a new permit. They have not done this. Instead they are asking for a minor amendment, a process that doesn’t allow for proper public consultation and input.
The City of Vancouver’s Urban Design Panel did not discuss the field as it was removed from consideration (as promised by Notre Dame) in April 2006.
Another critical point is that the stadium and its potential impacts on traffic safety, parking and quality of life for the community have NEVER been studied. The existing Transport Management Plan was written over 12 years ago and assumes the installation of a grass practice field. A practice field brings minimal extra traffic, whereas a field for games becomes a destination with a far greater impact on the local area.
The series of events outlined in the diagram shows the need for a NEW BUILDING PERMIT PROCESS to look at all aspects of the proposed stadium and the effect it would have on our community.
The diagram below is designed to show, at a glance, the changes between the grass practice field for Notre Dame School that was approved by the City in 2008 — and the stadium that is proposed in the “minor amendment.” It also outlines the far greater impact the new plan will have on the neighbourhood.
“Vancouver’s urban forest includes every tree in our city – on streets, in parks, public spaces, and back yards. Our urban forest plays important environmental and social roles: it cleans the air, absorbs rainwater, provides bird habitat, and improves our health and well-being.“
If every tree in Vancouver is part of the Urban Forest strategy, it follows that every effort should be made to retain the 23 mature, full-of-bird-and-bug-life, poplars on Kaslo Street.
I was told by an old-timer in the neighbourhood, who lived opposite the school site, that when the poplars were planted those particular trees were selected because of their prodigious ability to soak up water from the ground. This was important because Notre Dame was, and is, built over Hastings Creek and is also positioned at a low, water-collecting point of the neighbourhood. In the past it was a marsh. It is unknown what effect the removal of the poplars will have on the wetness of the school site, not to mention the surrounding area.
Ensure that every person lives within a 5 minute walk of a park, greenway, or other green space by 2020; restore or enhance 25ha of natural areas between 2010 and 2020
As you can see from the aerial view above, the area around Notre Dame School (the red dot in the middle) is already very poorly served by green space. The walk to the nearest park is far longer than five minutes. Many people head to the tiny bit of “greenway” provided by the Notre Dame poplars to walk their dogs, or simply to stroll within the sound of birdsong and the whispering of wind in the leaves. Removal of this tiny strip of green is a big step in the wrong direction for a city aiming to provide its citizens with more green space, and the physical, mental and spiritual well-being it is known to promote.
A sub-set of the Access to Nature Strategy is the Vancouver Bird Strategy in which the City strives to make Vancouver a rich and welcoming year-round habitat for all kinds of native birds. A healthy and diverse population of birds is intended to add to the enjoyment and enrichment of Vancouver residents, and also attract visitors from around the world.
The Kaslo Street poplars provide an important habitat for local birds. Watching the trees for any length of time will reveal a parade of chickadees, juncos, bush tits, northern flickers, crows and robins, and even hawks, ravens and bald eagles making occasional visits. Many birds nest in these trees in the spring time, making use of the security from ground-predators provided by their elevation. In spring, 2018, some migrating mountain bluebirds (rare in this region) used the school as a resting area for a few days on their trip to their summer habitat in northern BC.
Vancouver achieved its goal of attracting visitors from around the world last summer when the prestigious meeting of bird scientists (IOC2018) was held here. I met some of those scientists, and we discussed the small things that can make cities bird friendlier. We agreed that areas like the small stand of poplars in my neighbourhood are great examples of small spaces making a big difference within the urban environment. Ironically, this was just couple of weeks before we learned that those very trees were threatened.
Note: The City required that the school have arborist’s inspection done of these poplars. We have to assume that resulting report said that the trees should be removed but, as far as we know, this is only because of the school’s plan to create a ten foot drop-off right at their base of the trees (to accommodate the sunken field) which will render them unstable. We would like to see a second arborist’s report undertaken on the viability of the trees without such drastic excavation.
Should the project go ahead and the poplars be removed, the city requires that the school replace them with other trees. I am curious to know what trees of any size could thrive on top of a ten foot retaining wall.
The other way in which the Notre Dame proposal seems to be marching away from green city goals is by coating the entire remaining surface of the campus with a combination of artificial turf and parking lot.
Artificial turf can be played on for up to 80 hours a week and does not (normally) need watering. These two advantages seem to have caused a stampede by the Vancouver Park Board (as well as private institutions like Notre Dame School) to install this surface on as many fields as possible to increase playing time.
But there are some very serious disadvantages to artificial turf that really need to considered more closely, including possible adverse heath effects for those using the fields, as well as a variety of environmental problems.
As far as climate change is concerned, it seems a very bad idea — not only for the users of the field but for whole neighbourhoods around the fields.
“Unlike natural grass which has evaporative cooling properties, artificial turf is made of several heat-retaining materials which can significantly increase field surface temperatures, substantially increase air temperatures near fields, and thus contribute to the urban heat island effect in surrounding neighbourhoods. This increases the risk of heat-related health impacts during hot weather events. Widespread use of artificial turf would also make Toronto less resilient to extreme weather events and increase adverse health impacts associated with these events.”
It’s also a bad idea in terms of meeting the City’s rainwater management plan, in which they aim to maximize the amount of permeable surfaces on public and private property in order to cope with increased climate changed-caused rainfall.
Artificial turf is known to be far less permeable than natural grass, and Notre Dame plans to install such a surface in a sunken field, on natural marshland, and over the watercourse of Hastings Creek … I’m not an engineer, of course, but this seems like a high drainage risk.
Artificial Turf Mountain
Part of the Greenest City Action Plan is Zero Waste 2040and I can’t help but wonder where a mountain of worn out artificial turf fits into that.
Artificial turf does not last forever. Its lifespan depends on various factors, from the amount of use, to the quality of the product. But all of it is sure to wear out sooner or later, and then what? Off to the landfill it goes. This Dutch video follows an expired fake grass field to its final resting place at the Artificial Turf Mountain.
Does Vancouver want an Artificial Turf Mountain of its very own by 2040?
Ideals, politics, and competing interests can make uneasy bedfellows. Creativity and ingenuity is required to work in such a scenario.
So here’s a modest proposal.
What if the school were to look at ways in which a grass field could work to meet its sports and exercise needs, and the trees could be saved?
In return for the school being such a good citizen, working with the City to reach its 2020 green goals, the City Park Board could take over maintenance of the Kaslo Poplars, pruning and tending to the trees, and perhaps planting native species grasses and shrubs on the City side of the trees. That way the school would soon have its exercise space, which would please students and parents who have waited so long for a field. They would have a sports area, plus an outdoor classroom area for Environmental Studies classes, providing amenities geared to students with a wide range of interests. The mountain bluebirds might even come back!
The school would gain positive public recognition for making such a wonderful contribution to the City’s green action plan, and the City would gain a small strip of green space to inch them a little towards their 2020 goal of everyone within five minute walk away from a bit of nature in the city.
Or shall we just chop the trees down, carpet everywhere with artificial turf, and call the city green, even if it’s just the uniform emerald of an endless sea of this …?
Let’s go with the first idea!
It really doesn’t take a lot of green space to create foothold for nature and birds in the city, to the benefit of all city dwellers — so let’s try and work together to save this tiny oasis before it’s gone.
If you’d like to contact the City of Vancouver to express your opinion on either the specific Notre Dame School issue, or on the expanding use of artificial turf on Vancouver park space, here are few handy addresses:
This wonderful letter to City Hall was written by Sarah Groves who is both an environmental scientist and artist.
04 December 2018
Dear Mayor & Councillors:
Re: Request for development permit amendment at Notre Dame School and environmental stewardship
Although environmental issues did not feature prominently in the October election, environmental stewardship is the backbone of a sustainable city and must be an integral part of every planning decision, especially as Vancouver aspires to be the greenest city by 2020. Continuing development pressure from urban densification through redevelopment, laneway houses, etc. compromises environmental values throughout the city and must be making the objective of planting 150,000 trees by 2020 (City of Vancouver, Urban Forest Strategy 2014) and keeping them healthy a significant challenge. In this context, protecting existing mature trees must be a priority.
The request by Notre Dame School for an amendment to its 2008 development permit is a case where environmental considerations appear to be absent from the decision-making process. The proposed “minor” amendment would replace a natural turf field with artificial turf, a synthetic product with no capacity to trap carbon dioxide, none of the cooling effects of natural turf, and ecological value similar to a slab of concrete. This installation would require the removal of a stand of mature trees, a community legacy and amenity of ecological value.
Even small patches of green space and trees have ecological value and can provide important habitat and networks of habitat that support biodiversity of resident and migrant species. The historical decline in tree canopy cover in Vancouver has occurred project by project in small increments that produce large cumulative effects. The proposed “minor” amendment to the development permit for Notre Dame School (located in an area of the city with low tree canopy cover) would contribute irreversibly to this trend and should not be considered without a new development permit application that will allow full and open public consultation and consideration of the proposal.
Our Notre Dame Neighbours group has written many, many letters to the City of Vancouver over the past few months expressing our concern over the glaring lack of community consultation re the proposed Notre Dame McCarthy Stadium. We’ve quoted permits and traffic plans and made points about parking, noise, traffic, safety, drainage and fears for the quality of life of our neighbourhood.
Below you will find links to the original permit documents issued to Notre Dame School, — a permit to construct a graded grass practice field (not sunken), set back 5.5 metres from the Kaslo Street poplars to avoid damaging their roots. There are no seats visibly included in this permit as it was meant to be a practice field only.
The first link is a Press Release issued by Notre Dame School in January 2017, in which they outline their plans for the site. They have since removed the document from their web site, but we include it here in the belief that it is an accurate description of the school’s ultimate ambitions.
In a welcome development, Vancouver’s Fire Prevention Division has requested an updated traffic study for the area around Notre Dame Regional Secondary. This comes nearly six weeks after Notre Dame Neighbours asked the fire department how McCarthy Stadium crowds and traffic will impact emergency response times at our Number 14 Firehall.
Here’s what Rick Cheung, Assistant Chief-Fire Protection Engineer told us in an email on 22 Oct 2018:
“Thank you for your feedback. Based on the information, I have recommended to the Development Services Department that the permit applicant provide an updated traffic study for the construction of the bleachers at the outdoor playing field.”
It’s significant that Assistant Chief Cheung spent some time reviewing the situation before asking for the new traffic study. His initial reaction to us was that there would be no impacts. Clearly when he examined the proposed changes more closely he changed his mind.
Notre Dame needs to take the safety of our community seriously. McCarthy Stadium is too big a change from the 2008 permit to proceed as a minor amendment. The school needs to apply for a new development permit with full and meaningful public consultation.