An advocacy group fighting against the proposed redevelopment of the Lakeside Golf Club in Chestermere has ramped up awareness efforts with a door-to-door campaign this summer.
Joe Samulenok, a Lakeside Greens Golf Course Preservation Society member, said when community residents discovered the golf course's redevelopment plans had not yet been brought before Chestermere City council, they decided to form a group to ensure their voices would be heard.
The society was established last fall in response to the golf club owners’ announcement in September 2020 that they intended to partner with Slokker Homes to rezone the 18-hole course into a residential neighbourhood.
“Rather than having an individual action or response, it seemed to make more sense to make up a group who represents the entire cross-section of our community,” Samulenok said.
He added members of the society come from different backgrounds – some are parents of young children, and some are retired – but they all share a fondness for the green space and amenities of the local course, which has operated on the west side of Chestermere Lake for nearly 30 years.
“We see everyone out there from five years old to 90 years old and that’s one of the beauties of the local golf course,” he said. “Especially one that has public availability which this one does – it allows everyone in the community to take a shot at it, to participate, to get their kids involved.”
As of June 10, a petition put forth by the society against the redevelopment plan has garnered 4,765 signatures, while signs protesting the proposed development are scattered throughout the city on residents’ lawns.
“It’s a protectionist action,” Samulenok said regarding the advocacy efforts to date. “We’re trying to get in front of the threat. By now, we thought they would have approached council, but indeed they have not.
“So we’ve had to continue to keep the issue alive, so people in the community don’t lose interest.”
Due to restrictions on in-person gatherings resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, advocacy efforts have been limited to social media campaigns and other online efforts in recent months, he said. When it was possible last year, he added that volunteers did go door-to-door to spread awareness.
Now that restrictions have started to ease in Alberta, a second phase of the society’s door-knocking campaign is set to kick off in the Kinniburgh neighbourhood this summer.
“Through the door-to-door campaign, we’ve got amazing feedback from people who literally stood on their doorstep and offered to volunteer for any of our other campaigns recognizing that this really would gut the centre of the city,” he said.
Anstice Communications, a communications firm representing the partnership between Slokker Homes and Lakeside Golf Club, said the company has no official comment regarding the society’s current advocacy efforts, but advised they have been in consultation with the society and understand “their emotional ties to the golf course.”
“Many seniors and young adults independently want to find a home in the centre of Chestermere. Many others would like a new recreational centre without increased property taxes. Our vision benefits these people and the greater community, beyond one neighbourhood,” read an official statement from Slokker Homes.
“We are willing to invest our time, money and expertise on a future that serves the highest and best interests of the city and all of its citizens – the vast majority of whom are not golfers or members at [Lakeside Golf Club].”
The statement added the current redevelopment plans call on preserving 60 acres of the course for public use as parks, pathways and green space for Chestermere residents. Plans also include the creation of a “main” street, which aims to generate jobs and stimulate Chestermere’s local economy by keeping dollars spent in the community.
Peter Paauw, the CEO of Slokker Homes, has repeatedly said auditors’ assessments of Lakeside Golf Club proved the course is not feasible, and that the business has operated at a financial loss for years.
“Opponents say the club can be saved if our bid for rezoning is denied. They are in denial of the economic and financial reality. The real danger is when a golf course is abandoned as vacant land, especially when that property is in the geographical centre of the city, as is the case here,” the company’s statement continued.
While Slokker has not yet submitted an application for redevelopment to the City, representatives previously said they have spent the last few months collaborating with the community on a vision that would be acceptable to the majority of Chestermerians.
But according to Samulenok, several candidates in Chestermere's upcoming municipal election have indicated interest in the golf course redevelopment plan as a topic of concern.
“We think it’s actually going to be the top issue for the [upcoming] election,” he said. “We felt very rewarded with the public response, reaction, and participation.”
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