by Dave Preston
A controversial parking covenant tied to a proposed downtown development was approved Wednesday morning at a special council meeting.
Occupants of a yet to be built new headquarters building for TNI The Network Inc. will be allowed to use 57 parking spots in the municipally owned parking lot across Second Street from the Peachland Legion.
In exchange, TNI will upgrade the parking lot and pay for the majority of repairs and maintenance. The agreement is for a period of up to 10 years.
Mayor Keith Fielding opened the meeting by letting the public know that he will be adding an additional step to the development approval process.
“It is clear to me from feedback that I and others have received that many people wanting to comment on the design of the TNI building have ended up feeling angry and frustrated,” said Fielding. “Angry because they have experienced the process as disrespectful and frustrated because they care about the issues but don’t feel that their opinions have been welcomed or heard.”
Fielding said he will address the problem by “establishing an additional opportunity for public input on form and character issues.”
The mayor said the additional input will be sought prior to a development permit application being dealt with, but he did not provide details how the input will work.
Fielding also told about 10 attendees of the meeting that the public would not be allowed to speak at Wednesday’s meeting. He said it is possible that if council received information from the public, a previously held public hearing could be invalidated and require repeating.
That sparked Coun. Cindy Fortin to put forward a motion to allow the public to speak at the meeting.
“I believe the public hearing is already invalid,” said Fortin.
After considerable debate, Fortin’s motion was defeated in a four to three vote. Fortin and Councillors Eldon Kerbes and Terry Condon voted in favor of allowing the public to speak at the meeting, while Fielding and Councillors Vern Moberg, Eric Hall and Peter Schierbeck voted against the motion.
“I’ve been very confused with this entire process,” said Fortin. “On one hand the public and council were told that we were debating zoning only at the public hearing and yet parking was included. On the other hand we were told that it was not. Now we’re getting more information on parking and the public was told that we would be able to address that later and now we’re not giving them a chance.”
Dave Smith, director of planning and development services, presented the parking covenant to council. He said TNI is required to provide 57 parking spaces. The covenant would allow TNI to use that many spaces in an upgraded parking lot behind its building in exchange for TNI paying for the upgrades and the majority of future maintenance.
Kerbes said the covenant goes against a section of the Sustainable Downtown Peachland Plan which calls for no surface parking in the area. He said council should establish a parking plan before proceeding with the TNI covenant.
The assessed value of the district owned lot in question is $900,000, according to Fortin, who said she thinks TNI should pay a usage fee or use on its other downtown properties for parking.
“We are in danger of looking at this issue in the short term and perhaps in isolation,” said Condon.
The covenant is a transitional step to the parking criteria laid out in the downtown plan, according to Condon. He added that council members should keep in mind that TNI employees already park downtown and with the development there won’t be an increase in the number of people requiring parking.
Fortin said she is uncomfortable with a million dollar property being used for TNI’s free parking.
Hall made a motion that would effectively put the covenant on hold while the TNI development is being built, in order to give council more time to look at other solutions.
Council would have a riot on its hands from other developers wanting the same deal — constructing a building downtown and dealing with parking later, according to Condon.
Fielding agreed, saying doing so would create a precedent.
Hall’s motion was defeated by a vote of four to three, with Kerbes, Hall and Fortin in favor.
“I know that this is very messy,” said Fielding. “We’re beginning this process with one step. There will be multiple steps.”
Fortin then made a motion to defer the subject to a later date. That was defeated by a four to three vote with Hall, Fortin and Kerbes in favor.
A final vote was taken on a staff recommendation to approve the covenant. The motion passed by a vote of four to three, with Fortin, Hall and Kerbes opposed and Fielding, Condon, Moberg and Scheirbeck in favor.