Most Red Deerians don’t realize what they would lose if Molly Banister Drive was extended to connect with 40th Avenue, said Rod Trentham of the Red Deer River Naturalists.
Many city residents think all that’s at stake is part of the cement trail that runs along Barrett Drive, across the street from Bower Mall.
But if they could cross Piper Creek at that spot, they would realize there are 40 acres of mixed forest in there, added Trentham.
”People don’t know what’s behind the Bower farm … But when you walk in there it’s beautiful …
“There’s quite a high escarpment along Piper Creek,” he noted, “and there’s lot of diverse vegetation, with spruce and deciduous trees …”
Melcor Developments Ltd., which recently purchased this private land from the Bower sisters, plans to create a new park at this scenic location — including a new pedestrian bridge to make it more accessible to residents of a future neighbourhood the company wants to build between Sunnybrook and Southbrook, as well as to other Red Deerians.
This could be the last time the city’s has a chance to gain 40-acres of natural area, said Trentham, who spent nearly three decades arguing a new park is worth more to Red Deer than a road extension.
He’s made his support for preserving the wooded Piper Creek escarpment between 32nd Street and 19th Street known since the early 1990s when the Molly Banister Drive extension first came up for public review.
Trentham thought the question had been put to rest when a former city council approved taking the road “off the books” after an outpouring of public opposition late in the 1990s. But the proposed extension was brought back to the public two or three times since.
This month, a public city survey asked 4,000 city residents in adjacent neighbourhoods to weigh in on the park versus road debate. It was prompted by Melcor’s request the city remove the future road alignment from the area structure plan so the company can begin planning a neighbourhood in this last undeveloped piece of east Red Deer.
Municipal planners will review the results of the survey, which closed Monday, and will present a report to council in the spring. Planner Kimberly Fils-Aime said there will be other opportunities for the public to provide feedback.
Trentham admits he doesn’t understand traffic congestion concerns: If Molly Banister Drive extension is not built when the city grows to 115,000 to 180,000 people then 19th Street can be widened to accommodate more cars.
Even those who favour quicker travel over natural preservation should care about their pocketbooks, said Trentham. He noted Melcor has publicly stated $50-million in future tax revenues would be lost if the road is allowed to go through because of a loss in density and property values, because “who wants to live next to an arterial road?”
On top of the decline in city tax revenues, Trentham said taxpayers would also be footing the bill for a 250-metre curved bridge over the Piper Creek escarpment — a yet undetermined, but costly expenditure.
For him, the question boils down to one point: “In 10 years time, what are people going to say? ‘Wow, look at this road system?’ or ‘what an amazing park we have?’ ”