A modern, slightly larger Big Hill Lodge could be the first project that is pursued should town council gives the thumbs up to the tri-site concept plan.

After months of public consultation, the tri-site task force revealed its recommendations to the public last week. Yesterday, the committee met to prepare its presentation to town council on Dec. 10.

Even if council accepts their recommendations as information, Mayor Jeff Genung believes the work has only begun to develop the public land.

"Not to understate all the work the committee has done, the hard work is to follow," says Genung.

He believes a 10-year capital plan may be needed to establish priorities, then systematically complete projects. Along the way, Genung says there will be further consultations to discuss who would be involved with each project, their size and where the money will come from, which is likely the biggest question on most people's minds.

Both task force chair Susan Flowers and Genung suspect a new Big Hill Lodge project could be first in line. 

"We can’t do it all at once, of course, but one of the things we can do right away is the Big Hill Lodge," says Flowers." If that works, the Big Hill Lodge has their own budget and they want to move so they can get started."

In the meantime, a request has already been made to Alberta Seniors and Housing to give the existing Big Hill Lodge land to the town, says Flowers, to accommodate a number of services, like affordable housing and facilities for domestic violence and pregnancy care. 

"There are all these different housing needs so maybe it could be used to accommodate some of those," says Flowers.

Flowers, who is also a town councillor, says initial feedback on the committee's concept plan has been positive.

"People really appreciated that we talked to so many groups and that we really listened to them and tried to incorporate what they were looking for," says Flowers.

The scope of the overarching concept plan and the activities it proposes to accommodate are diverse.

The lower deck of what's now known as the Cochrane Lions Rodeo Park, a 15.3-acre parcel situated between 5th Ave. and the Glenbow neighbourhood would become "Cochrane's Central Park" with a multipurpose open/green space that would continue to accommodate the rodeo grounds in a nonpermanent seasonal manner. It calls for the elimination of the ball diamonds, slated to be relocated and expanded to an annexed piece of land north of Heritage Hills. Instead, it would include sports courts, play areas, outdoor skating rink and other passive recreational uses. There would be space for booths, food trucks, seating and could accommodate an amphitheatre.

The upper bench is proposed to include a new events centre, shared seniors and youth centre, affordable housing and associated social services like FCSS and ParentLink. It is the proposed location for the new Big Hill Lodge that is currently situated in east Cochrane.

The one-acre parcel next to the library on Railway St. offers the opportunity to expand the library and incorporate a performing arts theatre and innovation hub. The task force also sees the opportunity for mixed market housing to occupy the upper levels and for an outdoor space for social gatherings and events.

The third parcel commonly referred to as the former Esso Bulk site is 1.71 acres and lies just across the street from the library. It is proposed to serve as a transit hub and also include town satellite offices, and space for artist workshops and classes with indoor/outdoor space for visual and performing arts. In addition, it could include rental space for community groups.

While underground parking is being considered for both the 5th Ave. and Railway St. locations, transit is seen as a major player in transporting people to all of these locations.

Mixed Reaction at the Unveiling

Bill Gibbons has long been advocating for a central ground level seniors centre with an expanded games room for pool and cards. He believes the plan presented fits the bill and being near many other amenities makes it the right location.

"Everything comes to a central hub and seniors will benefit,"

He feels a positive vibe and hopes it will transpire.

"The mayor appears to be on board and he wants to get this done so we'll see where it goes. He's in favour of a lot of the needs that seniors are in need of right now and with him on board and the councillors it's going to happen."

Still, he's keeping a close eye on the progress.

"We elected them to do what we wanted them to do and If they fall off the wagon a little we're going to be on their case."

In contrast, Keith Boothe says there's just too much planned for the 5th Avenue land.

"They're trying to incorporate too many things on this limited space. Perhaps they're trying to please everybody and not deny anyone. Furthermore, I don't think seniors housing should be on the upper bench. This should be kept for the use and enjoyment of all people of Cochrane in the future."

The first questions that popped into the head of Stu Bradley at the unveiling were money and parking.

"You can't go forward until you have parking and you have money and through all of this nobody is stepping forward with the big cheque."

Betty Ann Jenner was similarly disappointed with how much they are trying to cram into the 5th Avenue location.

"They tried to satisfy the needs of everybody in Cochrane instead of saying, 'OK this is the space we have we can satisfy the needs of three groups, which groups will they be?'"

Both Bradley and Jenner aren't impressed with suggesting low-cost housing on the upper bench.

"Why would you bring housing into a place you want for recreational and cultural purposes for the community?" asks Jenner. "This is the last place in Cochrane where people can go down the street and look at the mountains and if they block that of with housing that view will be gone."

They aren't alone in their concerns. The need to address traffic congestion and parking were both common suggestions received on the feedback boards as was the suggestion to reduce the amount of housing proposed.

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