Open House Postponed

New Traffic Study Announced!

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 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.

However, after strong pushback and evidence to the contrary from our neighbourhood, the City has been having second thoughts.

First, in December it required Notre Dame have an Open House to “reset the community consultation in order to gain official feedback”.

Now, in February, the City wants the school to do an “updated traffic study”.

None of this would have happened if you hadn’t spoken up.

We’re pleased the City is beginning to listen. However, it’s not good enough to find out about a major development like a traffic study as part of an automated response.

We should be at the table taking part in the decision making process, not outside looking in.

Notre Dame Stadium Timeline


Click here to see a larger PDF version of this diagram with links to related documents

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.


Greenest City 2020?


The City of Vancouver has a long held, and widely publicized, aim of being the greenest city in the entire world by 2020. That’s next year folks!

Hundreds of thousands of words have been written on the strategies and initiatives for reaching this goal. See Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Plan.

greenest city log

It all so good in theory, and yet, when I look at the proposed changes to our own neighbourhood, I find it very hard to put the two things together.

The proposed change of plan at Notre Dame School, to go from:

(a) grass practice field with trees retained, to

(b) sunken artificial turf games facility with trees removed,

… seems to be going in entirely the wrong direction.

Notre Dame is a private school, but it should be noted that the City’s green plan repeatedly calls for cooperation between “developers, planners, designers and public and private landowners.”



The proposed removal of the row of Lombardy Poplars on the school’s western border contradicts a large number of the the green initiatives that shelter under the Greenest City Action Plan umbrella

Notre Dame poplars at sunrise

To begin with, the maintenance of trees is part of the City’s Urban Forest Strategy

“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.

Poplar trees reflected in puddles

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.

City trees are also a critical part of the City’s Access to Nature Goals

One specific goal within this strategy is:

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

notre dame map wider

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.

Summer time poplars

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.

A pair of northern flickers playing in the Notre Dame poplars
A pair of northern flickers playing in the Notre Dame poplars

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.

Northern Bluebird at Notre Dame
A Mountain Bluebird resting at Notre Dame, April 2018.

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.

Raven in the Notre Dame Poplars
Raven in the poplars

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.

poplars to remain
Instructions on the Notre Dame Field permit issued by the City of Vancouver in 2008. The new plans, part of the “minor amendment,” no longer include this important detail.

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.

From Health Impact Assessment of the Use of Artificial Turf in Toronto written in 2015,

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 2040 and 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 …?

Artificial turf

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:


Adrienne Carr

Peter Fry

Melissa DeGenova

Lisa Dominato

Jean Swanson

Colleen Hardwick

Michael Wiebe

Christine Boyle

Rebecca Bligh

Sarah Kirby-Yung

General message to Mayor and Council at this link.

Or call 311 and leave a comment.


Stuart McKinnon

John Irwin

Gwen Giesbrecht

Camil Dumont

Dave Demers

John Coupar

Tricia Barker

Or call 311 and leave a comment.


Gil Kelley
(General manager of Planning, Urban Design, and Sustainability)


All calls and emails have to be logged, so each one counts!


Another Letter to City Hall

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.

Yours truly,

Sarah Groves

Cc. Sadhu Johnston, City Manager

An Open Letter to City Hall

Golden Poplars

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.

This blog post by one of our members is a letter of a different sort — a heartfelt Open Letter to the City of Vancouver –

Delicate Balance

Reference Documents

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.

Notre Dame Stadium Press Release 2017

Notre Dame Minor Permit Amendment Operational Notes, September 2018

Minor Permit Amendment Request Jan 2018

Original Notre Dame Permit Apr 29 2008

Community Notice April 29 2008

Permit Conditions Feb 2007

2007 Permit Highlights

Arborist’s Report March 2007

Transport Management Plan 2007





Fire Department Concerned About McCarthy Stadium Traffic

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.

A Visual on the Notre Dame Stadium Problem

An aerial view of Notre Dame School and the surrounding area shows at a glance why the addition of a destination sports facility on that site and in this neighbourhood is such a bad idea.

Notre Dame stadium problems

A comparison of the size and location of Notre Dame School as compared to other high schools with sports fields shows the problem in an even clearer light.

Other schools with large sports fields:

  • Have MUCH BIGGER campuses and more students
  • Are located in less densely populated areas
  • Are partly bordered by park or woodland to provide buffering between sports field and neighbours

The red box is the size of Notre Dame’s campus. Blue borders mark the campus sizes of the other schools.