June 02, 2016 - 11:30 AM
VERNON - A crushing blow from the provincial government means an amphitheatre will not proceed at Okanagan College in Vernon, and the chances of finding an alternate location are slim.
Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster announced yesterday, June 1, he had expressed his concerns and the sentiments of local residents to the Ministry of Advanced Education, and as the owner of the land in question, it decided to stop the proposal in its tracks. Noise, traffic congestion and environmental issues were cited as the primary concerns with the amphitheatre.
The Okanagan Summer Festival Society released preliminary plans and conceptual drawings for the “Kal Bowl’ amphitheatre in December and spokesperson Diane Bond says they are extremely disappointed with the government’s decision.
“It was scrapped too soon,” Bond says. “You accept when you go into something like this there may be barriers but the process, which I always said would go on for a long time, has been short-circuited now.”
She says the society was always aware permission would be needed from the Ministry of Higher Education but says they were not yet at the point of asking.
“There was no intent to ask them until we were actually contemplating a lease,” Bond says. “We had told anybody who was interested we had seen solutions to these issues in other places. We knew what we needed to do, and it wasn’t easy, but it could be done.”
The college was identified as a promising site for the amphitheatre due to its proximity to the Kelowna airport and Highway 97, its beautiful setting, and its natural bowl shape, which the society said would help contain sound.
“The question of an alternate site has been raised by many people, including the MLA. People are convinced there must be lots of places. The problem is it’s easier said than done. We need a lot of criteria to be met, and we also need the site to basically be free,” Bond says. “If somebody comes to us with an appropriate location and an enthusiasm for the project, we’d be delighted to hear from them.”
She says the government’s termination of the project isn’t just disappointing for the society, but for the Okanagan.
“We heard from a lot of people before we even launched this idea, we talked to many people, we did our homework. We heard from people who said ‘I think this would be great for the North Okanagan.’ And lets be honest, the Okanagan needs more tourism attractions of quality.”
Coldstream resident Joan Rowan is relieved the project is not going forward at the college.
“If it was a rural setting where it wasn’t going to be adversely affecting local residents, then yes, we all thought as an idea, it’s a great idea. But in this location, in the middle of a residential area made no sense whatsoever,” Rowan says.
She says a group of local residents gathered close to 1,000 signatures opposing the project and also wrote letters to Coldstream council, the board of governors for Okanagan College, North Okanagan-Shuswap MP Mel Arnold, MLA Eric Foster, the Ministry of Advanced Education, and the board of directors for the Okanagan Summer Festival Society.
“We’re exhausted from all the work we’ve had to do to get to this point and we’re relieved it won’t be happening,” Rowan says. “This whole thing has been a nightmare and we’re glad it’s over.”
In a media release issued yesterday afternoon, June 1, Foster said he agreed the amphitheatre would degrade the quality of life for nearby residents.
“It’s a good idea — potentially very good for the community — but it’s the wrong location,” he said.
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