Abbotsford’s growing population needs more sports fields and ball diamonds, but a potentially controversial solution won’t come before council anytime soon.
Local sports groups have told the city they want a “multi-sport tournament centre” that can host large events at a central location. And last week, politicians received a new report showing that demand outstrips the supply of Abbotsford’s baseball diamonds and that the city has fewer sports fields per capita than neighbouring communities.
Steve Coleman of the Abbotsford Angels Hardball Association says that the lack of centrally located facilities makes it difficult to attract teams to tournaments, which help organizations raise funds and keep fees low.
“Without enough fields available, we are pitted against each other trying to show why one organization needs the fields more than the other,” Coleman said. “Rather than battling each other, many of us envision a multi-sport facility where all of our organizations work together on initiatives. Together we will be much stronger and we can help each other grow.”
He said it also makes life difficult for parents with multiple children playing baseball.
Faced with little available room to accommodate new fields, Abbotsford’s 2016 Official Community Plan set aside two blocks of properties in the Agricultural Land Reserve that could be eyed as a location for future new sports fields. Those blocks of land include parcels south of the University of the Fraser Valley and around near DeLair Park, and their conversion would require the approval of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC).
Such a plan may prove controversial. Last year, dozens spoke up against plans to ask for the removal of farmland from the ALC in order to provide room for industrial growth. It’s unclear whether the parks properties would get to that stage, or what the response would be. The two “special study areas” are smaller in scale and converting them to sports fields won’t have as large an impact on the surrounding area as in the industrial blocks, but some of the same concerns surrounding the loss of farmland would remain.
Mayor Henry Braun told The News last week the special study areas haven’t been a focus for the city as it develops a range of master plans and neighbourhood plans in the wake of the OCP adoption.
“We have enough things on our plate right now,” he said.
The study presented to council last week that showed the need for sports fields was commissioned for the parks, recreation and culture master plan, but didn’t mention the special study areas at all. Braun said the study areas aren’t dead, but rather part of the long-term planning for Abbotsford’s future.
“We have an obligation as elected leaders to look to the future,” he said.
Coleman said baseball groups have been hearing about long-term plans for the area around DeLair Park for years. While he gave the city credit for improving several local parks, he said the city is badly in need of new fields now.
Ian Knight of the Abbotsford Soccer Association said there continues to be significant demand for fields, particularly during weekends.
“It is becoming something of a struggle because everyone wants the same time slots,” he said. The construction of new turf fields near W.J. Mouat Secondary school has been a boon, but see huge demand – especially when the weather forces the closure of some pitches, as the rain has done in recent weeks. The same goes for the city’s relatively few indoor facilities.