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‘There should be a budget item for this park’: Burnside-Gorge hoping for Arbutus Park investment this year

Improvements to the park are overdue, say community advocates, and could be part of better access to the Gorge Waterway

By Shannon Waters
January 17, 2023
Municipal
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

‘There should be a budget item for this park’: Burnside-Gorge hoping for Arbutus Park investment this year

Improvements to the park are overdue, say community advocates, and could be part of better access to the Gorge Waterway

By Shannon Waters
Jan 17, 2023
Improvements to the small Arbutus Park, off Washington Avenue, are long overdue, Burnside-Gorge community advocates say. Photo: Shannon Waters / Capital Daily
Improvements to the small Arbutus Park, off Washington Avenue, are long overdue, Burnside-Gorge community advocates say. Photo: Shannon Waters / Capital Daily
Municipal
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

‘There should be a budget item for this park’: Burnside-Gorge hoping for Arbutus Park investment this year

Improvements to the park are overdue, say community advocates, and could be part of better access to the Gorge Waterway

By Shannon Waters
January 17, 2023
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‘There should be a budget item for this park’: Burnside-Gorge hoping for Arbutus Park investment this year
Improvements to the small Arbutus Park, off Washington Avenue, are long overdue, Burnside-Gorge community advocates say. Photo: Shannon Waters / Capital Daily

Arbutus Park is hard to notice. There is no sidewalk access to the postage stamp-sized park that sits at the end of Washington Avenue. Aside from a picnic table and a bench—which looks out over the Gorge Waterway and the Selkirk trestle—there is not much to Arbutus Park; not even a sign with its name.

But on the same day Victoria city council officially began its strategic planning and budgeting process for 2023, the Burnside-Gorge Community Association held a meeting to discuss the future of that little piece of greenspace that sits beside the water.

“Right now, it's poorly used because it's not taken care of,” said Avery Stetski, who chairs the Burnside-Gorge land use committee and is co-chair of the local community association. “There are no facilities there and it's not well maintained.”

The Burnside-Gorge neighbourhood may be better known for industrial activity and supportive housing than for greenspace but Steski said Tuesday’s meeting elicited enthusiastic support from residents keen for improvements to one of the few parks in their neighbourhood. An Arbutus Park dock, a waterfront walk stretching down to the Gorge Hospital lands and a path to connect the park to the Galloping Goose Trail are some of the possibilities Stetski hopes to see realized someday.

The 2017 neighbourhood plan for Burnside-Gorge includes “a renewed Arbutus Park, which should evolve as a well-used waterfront location” as part of a broader vision of improved waterway access in the neighbourhood.

But Stetski and others say they have yet to have any luck getting the city to prioritize plans for the park.

“It’s a continuance of every time Burnside-Gorge asks for something, it always falls on deaf ears and anytime they have given feedback to city council, it's never really amounted to anything,” said Darryl Wilson, manager of the Day’s Inn Victoria Uptown, which sits across the street from Arbutus Park.

Victoria’s new council has thus far shown more interest in the issue than its predecessor, according to Wilson, but there are plenty of priorities competing for space in the city budget—including other parks and other docks.

At council’s first meeting of 2023, Coun. Jeremy Caradonna brought forward a motion to have city staff work with the Township of Esquimalt to explore the possibility of adding a dock to Arm Street Park, which borders Victoria. The park sits in Esquimalt but the proposed dock would be in Victoria waters.

While several councillors expressed support for the motion, Mayor Marianne Alto suggested the Arm Street Park proposal would be better considered within the context of an array of “difficult choices” council will have to make as it plans this year’s budget.

“This is one of what I expect to be many priorities and actions that will be proposed for consideration and on which we will have, I am certain, difficult, complex and heated debate around what is possible in 2023.”

Alto began her tenure in the fall with a commitment of “a moderation in our expectations of speed” in the city, tempering expectations for what the new council will bring about during this term.

Competing but complementary priorities

Coun. Krista Loughton attended Tuesday’s community meeting and has pledged to bring Burnside-Gorge’s hopes for Arbutus Park to council.

“Now that swimming in the Gorge Waterway has become a popular activity, we need more access to the water,” she told Capital Daily. “This is certainly something we will be looking at in our strategic planning process.”

The city expanded the well-used Banfield Park dock last summer, making additional space for swimmers and paddlers to enjoy the water.

Stetski and Wilson believe there is a strong argument to be made for Arbutus Park to get some love in this year’s city budget.

“We don't want to compete with Arm Street Park,” Wilson said. “But if we were, just for argument's sake, to have a debate over which should take priority, Vic West already has Banfield Park [and] is predominantly a residential neighbourhood, whereas here in Burnside-Gorge, by opening access to this park, you hit so many different sectors, industries, demographics.”

For Stetski, the pace of residential development in Burnside-Gorge should give the neighbourhood an edge for municipal spending over other neighbourhoods that he says “are reticent about getting development.” 

“We are helping the city housing crisis by having these all developers in our neighbourhood, but because of that, we expect that the city council would take a look at it and just provide us with benefits to improve the neighbourhood.”

Two of Victoria’s five shelters are located in Burnside-Gorge, as are eight of the city’s 19 supportive housing developments. As of March 2019, the neighbourhood was home to more than twice as many supportive housing units as downtown, and more have been added there since the pandemic began.

With interest in increasing recreational access to the Gorge stretching from at least Victoria to Esquimalt, Wilson sees adding to Arbutus Park as one step toward a more dynamic waterway.

“In our view, this park is part of a much bigger picture—it doesn't necessarily boil down to Burnside-Gorge,” he said. “It's really about what do we want recreation in Victoria to look like in the future?”

Article Author's Profile Picture
Shannon Waters
Municipal affairs reporter

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