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Church says land proposal primarily about safety

Last Updated Jul 4, 2019 at 2:18 pm MDT

PHOTO. A "Save the Chess Park" sign hangs at the entrance of the Jina Burn Chess Park on July 2, 2019. MYMCMURRAY/Phil Wood

(CORRECTION: This article stated the Fort McMurray Chess Club began an online petition. While they support the petition, the Fort McMurray Chess Club clarified a person not affiliated with their group set up the petition. We apologize for this error.)

Residents are at odds with a local church over a plot of green space in Dickinsfield.

Family Christian Church made a proposal to the council on June 25, 2019, to purchase the land for development.

Reverend Edwin Rideout said the land purchase was the best option to address daily traffic concerns.

“It’s just a part of our ongoing commitment to our community, and especially in the area of safety. In looking at developing this lot, it’s not developed for a parking lot. It’s a shared [user] space. Between one quarter and one-third would actually be paved, the majority of it would be left as green space.”

Rideout said after one too many close calls, they spoke with traffic engineers about dealing with the flow.

Ecolé Dickinsfield and Sister Mary Phillips School sit across the street from the Family Christian Church.

The church received letters of support from both Public and Catholic school boards.

They also highlight traffic concerns in their letters.

The church surveyed the land over an extensive time period between April and October of 2018.

According to that data, the church said residents used the park for 174 out of potentially 2,562 hours.

In their breakdown, the Family Christian Centre used the property for activities for 113 hours.

As for general activities such as dog walking, playing games, only 29 hours, with chess players using the park for 32 hours.

In total, that is only 6.8 per cent for total usage.

“That’s minimal use of open space.” Rev. Rideout said. “We highly value green space. We’re willing to work with city planners to ensure the park is maintained, but also intergrated in that park is a drive-thru so we can safely load and offload our kids.”

Chess Park

The Jina Burn Memorial Chess Park occupies the green space.

A concerned resident started an online petition against the proposal.

That resident is not a member of the Fort McMurray Chess Club.

However, the non-profit group, which meets at the park on Thursdays, is also against development and supports that petition.

Aware of the petition, Rideout said it has misinformation.

In the proposal, the church offers to relocate the chess area.

Nevertheless, Rideout said he has no objection to keeping the chess park intact.

“The Jina Burn Memorial Chess Park is to be fully established, as matter of fact, enhanced.”

He added the church would consult with the family of the late Jina Burn to establish a memorial stone.

Furthermore, the church would assume full responsibility for the development and maintain the property year-round.

Also, it includes a skating rink, ball hockey zone, a basketball court, and well-maintained green space.

Family Christian Centre estimates an investment of $1.8-million would complete the construction.

Reverend Rideout said he fears a tragedy if nothing occurs.

“There are 11 points of intersection on a very short strip of road in very low lighting. It’s an accident waiting to happen.”

Council meets on Tuesday, July 9, 2019, to hold a public hearing on the motion.