Issue of April 15, 2018

Panagbenga Flower Festival
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City gets public pulse on Burnham parking
by Rimaliza A. Opiña

CENTER OF PUBLIC DEBATE -- Several proposals to build multi-level parking and/or parking with hotel and a mall at the site of the Baguio Old Auditorium (with parked cars) are now subject of public debates that have reached City Hall. Another public consultation is set on May 22. -- Harley Palangchao

People who attended last Wednesday’s public consultation on the proposal to build a multi-level parking building at the site of the old auditorium at Burnham Park found themselves on opposing ends with one group calling to preserve the Burnham of old, and the other pushing for the upgrading of the park to conform to the current and future needs of tourists and residents as well.

The more than 200 people who attended are now also taking a second and longer look at the Burnham Park master development plan designed by the University of the Cordilleras, which was turned over to the  city government in 2010 as its gift to the people of Baguio when it celebrated its centenary in 2009.

Arch. Robert Romero, then leader of the team that prepared the master plan said the design is user-friendly, ecologically balanced, has practical recreational options, aesthetically pleasing, and integrates Cordilleran culture and history. He reiterated the design was based on what people need as shown in their surveys and consultations conducted in 2007, back when the design was still being conceptualized.

“Times are changing. We cannot bring back the Burnham Park of the 1920s,” Romero said citing their study that park goers wanted a parking building conveniently located at the city’s biggest open space. He said the UC master plan reconciled the need to preserve the area, at the same time upgrade its existing facilities and gardens.

“We followed a two-pronged approach: a design that is attuned to the times but is ecologically balanced at the same time,” Romero said citing the green architecture concept incorporated in the master plan. He also said the master plan even prevents the construction of massive infrastructure by incorporating thematic designs at certain portions of the park.

Instead of implementing the UC design, the city government’s consultant at the Traffic and Transportation Management Committee, Joseph Claridades, wrote the Office of the President and asked for the declaration of Burnham Park as a no build zone, pending the crafting of guidelines for the development of the park.

Instead of sustaining Burnham Park as a breathing space in the central business district, Claridades said the UC design promotes using of more concrete, which increases humidity in and around the park.

“The design did not factor in the heat island effect,” Claridades later told reporters, stressing the UC design needs to be updated.

He also suggested that a management audit be done on the City Environment and Parks Management Office. Claridades said the Cepmo failed in its mandate to protect the park by allowing the operation of some establishments at the park despite violation of the Land Use Plan and Zoning Ordinance.

He also suggested for the suspension of the operation of the Harrison Road night market pending review of the guidelines of its operation and its purpose.

A nostalgic former city architect Joseph Alabanza said Burnham Park should be a park that have less man-made structures. “Minimize objects, let nature design itself,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mayor Mauricio Domogan said city officials will continue to listen to public clamor, but stressed that opposition is not the only voice that should be heard. “Parking is an important component of the Burnham master plan. They are not objecting that the area (old auditorium) is currently being used as parking for tourist buses,” he said and explained that the proposal to build other income-generating components like a mall or hotel is unsolicited and not final, albeit the Local Development Council already agreed that the park has to be upgraded.

Councilor Edgar Avila, on the other hand, said the appeal for presidential intervention is the right of any citizen, but said the move is premature. He said the consultations called by the city government are proof that the city is transparent by soliciting inputs from the public.

The committee on public utilities has set a third public consultation on May 22 at 8 a.m. to noon, also at the City Hall multipurpose hall, thereafter, it will prepare a report regarding the proposal to build a multi-level parking building.

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