PENTICTON - It may have been an innocent initiative put forward by a Penticton city staffer, but the citizen backlash resulted in the biggest turnout to a public hearing and regular council meeting Penticton’s present council has seen.
Several hundred residents packed council chambers and other rooms on the second floor of city hall Tuesday, April 7 to voice their concerns over a staff recommendation to amend the Official Community Plan from parks and recreation to medium density residential (MR) and make a zoning amendment from P2 parks and recreation to RM2 (low density multiple housing) to nine properties on South Beach Drive and Sudbury Avenue in the city’s south end.
The idea of the city relinquishing potential beach frontage — or abandoning plans to acquire it — did not seem to sit well with many who showed up at Tuesday’s council meeting.
Out of more than 20 people who publicly stated their views, only one voiced agreement with the staff initiative, and prior to the start of the public hearing, council was informed the city had received 27 letters of opposition to the plan.
The nine properties subject to parks zoning on the two streets date back to the early 1990s, when recommendations of the day urged council to make plans to purchase the properties over a 40-50 year period, as they became available, in order to turn the shoreline back into a publicly owned beach.
Since that time, only one property has been acquired by the city.
In more recent times, it was determined the purchase of the remaining properties would be in excess of 25 million dollars, and during a 2010 parks review, it was thought there might be better ways to spend the money somewhere else in the city. A public meeting in 2012 determined many property owners in the area wanted to see the parks designation removed, as it had a negative effect on property values.
This year, city staff determined the most appropriate use for the properties and sent letters to all affected property owners of their intent to redesignate the lands.
One after another, residents approached the microphone, rejecting the staff recommendation. The lone voice in opposition was Rod Krantz, a resident of South Beach Drive, who said the need for more public beachfront was “fear mongering.”
“It will be a long time before my family will ever sell,” he said.
Many others, however, said Penticton’s crown jewels were her lakes and beaches, and they were strongly opposed to rezoning property that could someday be publicly owned waterfront.
The speakers included former museum curator Randy Manuel, who said thousands had been spent in past years on park development plans by councils with a long term view of the future. He said the city needed 10 acres of park for every 1,000 citizens, and right now “barely scratched seven.”
“We need more parks,” Manuel said, a sentiment echoed by former Penticton mayor Jake Kimberley, who asked: “Who put this rezoning forward? Who initiated the rezoning?”
“The old mayors had a vision. We need more beach. There’s offshore investment coming into this community right now,” he said, noting acquisition of more beach frontage would take a lot of time and money.
“Don’t lose sight of your main responsibility to pass zoning for the future of the community,” he said.
The recommendations came before council for approval during the regular council meeting, much later in the evening. Coun.Judy Sentes pointed out sometimes council asked staff to come forward with ideas and initiatives, adding: “The process is successful. We’ve heard you, loud and clear.”
Coun. Helena Konanz noted “the entire community came out, for the future and for the past.”
She said council needed to be aware of the subject properties coming on the market in order to make plans to purchase them.
“This has been a very good discussion. We know what Penticton wants,” she said.
Council voted unanimously in favour of abandoning both the zoning amendment and the amendment to the Official Community Plan.
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