Several years ago, as I understand it, the City embarked on a “Naturalization” plan and policy. This policy generally meant leaving open areas to have long grasses as a means of ground cover. The City would not spend money to maintain large manicured lawns. This policy does make sense in some places - large boulevards along the Whitemud is an example.
But now the City has extended this policy to the drainage ponds in our newest neighbourhoods, and it's time to re-examine this Naturalization plan.
Who Owns the Ponds?
I have talked to several resident groups in several neighbourhoods, and they all have the same concern. When they moved in, the drainage pond behind their home or down the block was a carefully cared for park space. It was an amenity that was being cared for. But something happened, and now the grass is not cut, the trees are not groomed, the water has a layer of scum. Instead of being a community amenity, it's now an eyesore.
The lack of maintenance has allowed thistle and other noxious weeds to take hold, and in many cases, the weeds are now up to their property line and affecting their own space.
What’s more, they are generally paying more property tax for the privilege of having a green space behind their home. But they no longer have the amenity they paid for when they purchased their home.
Adding to the confusion, it is now Epcor that owns the water, owns the inlet and outlet pipe (these ponds are part of the drainage system) and is responsible for their maintenance. It is Epcor that is supposed to deal with the scum layer on the water and some of the landscaped areas around the water. But that line of responsibility seems to be different from pond to pond.
It's a mess of confusion and frustration.
Partnerships with HOAs
How these ponds are created should be remembered. What was once perhaps a natural low area was dramatically altered during construction. The topsoil and foliage was stripped down to the clay. The clay layer was shaped to form a basin. And a relatively thin layer of topsoil and grass was installed.
Typically the developer has maintained the pond area in pristine condition until most of the properties were developed, with the expectation that the local HOA would continue maintaining the space going forward.
In some neighbourhoods, an Home Owners Association has formed and thrived. These organizations generally form when a neighbourhood is first developed, and there is often a caveat on the titles of the member properties that property owners will pay annual fees for additional maintenance and upkeep of the neighbourhood beyond what the City provides.
Some of these HOAs have taken on the responsibility of maintaining the areas around the ponds, at least until recently. But in others, the HOA has either not continued to operate or has ceased to care for the pond. And that has led to confusion about who is responsible, why the conditions have deteriorated and who is going to fix it.
Effective Use of City Dollars
One can understand the City’s position to some degree. These ponds become inherited assets for the City, and their maintenance is costly. The City cannot keep all of the ponds to the same standards that some HOAs have achieved.
But simply refusing to cut the grass is not naturalization. If the City wants to “naturalize” these spaces, that means actually redeveloping, resculpting, replanting the space. And that doesn’t necessarily mean large manicured lawns and wide-open spaces. Proper naturalization can be an option. But just walking away is not an answer.
We need to review our naturalization policy. We need to discuss, on a local neighbourhood basis, what people expect. We need to explore potential maintenance agreements with HOAs or other local resident groups.
I am asking for your support. Please vote for Tim Cartmell on October 18.
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