A city real estate company is hoping to build housing along a section of the Great (formerly Trans Canada) Trail along Donaldson Drive, roughly between Central Avenue to the Southeast and Coalshute Road to the Northwest. The proposed development spans a 15 acre strip the company bought from the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), which operated the area’s long-defunct Kettle Valley Railway.
Southfield Real Estate, Ltd., owned by Grand Forks’ brothers Wayne and Gene Koch, mailed letters explaining the project to local residents and to city council earlier this week, according to Wayne Koch and city Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Duncan Redfearn. The finished development would be called “Railway Park,” according to the letter.
“Our whole objective is to fill most of the site with affordable, attractive modular homes,” Koch told The Gazette. Koch said the site is well disposed to development because of its proximity to city sewer lines and the city’s electric power grid.
Most homes would be single-level, falling somewhere between 1,400 and 1,600 square feet, he added.
The project must clear provincial and municipal hurdles before the development can be approved, he continued. Sections of polluted topsoil remain dotted throughout the site, a holdover from so much coal ash dumped by passing trains between the late 19th century and when the railway converted to bunker oil in the early 20th. Southfield’s plan, currently under review at British Columbia’s environment ministry, is to dispose of the contaminated soil by deep burial.
Contaminated soil will go into an on-site trench filled over by healthy soil, forming a landscaped berm, Koch said.
The project would then require mayor and council to re-zone the area for residential use, requiring a change to the city’s Official Community Plan, CAO Redfearn explained.
Councillor Chris Moslin said he is hopeful the project will go ahead, though his most recent report to council describes Southfield’s recent news as a “bittersweet” moment for Grand Forks. Stands of pine and honey locust trees will be cleared so that excavators can move soil around.
Koch said Southfield had hoped to “work around the trees,” but this was ruled out by environmental engineers who designed the project’s environmental remediation strategy.
Both Moslin and Koch said they wanted the Great Trail to pass through the finished development in some form, though neither could be certain the trail would follow its original course along the rail grade.
“I’ve always been in favour of the trail idea: Somehow we’ll do something to make it work,” Koch said.
Koch said Southfield hasn’t resolved a hard timeline for the project, but that he hopes to file a rezoning application with the city by next spring.