There is a group in town that is working hard to stop the first significant development in downtown Peachland.
A number of years ago, some people organized a group and called it Citizens for Responsible Community Planning in Peachland (CRCPP). That group gained a reputation as anti-development, with its members regularly speaking out against the majority of development proposals.
As time went on, the CRCPP changed its name to the softer, nicer sounding Peachland Residents Association (PRA). For some time, the PRA was fairly quiet. They were rarely heard from. That is, until Steve Allison proposed a new building for downtown Peachland.
Some known PRA members have become increasingly vocal in opposition to the project. There are also some people who are equally vocal but it is not clear if they are PRA members. Collectively, they are The Group.
What differentiates The Group from others who may not be keen on the development proposal is the vociferous, spiteful way they go about professing their opinions. Members of The Group have both acted like bullied children and bullies.
The Group is small. It’s membership roster is not exactly known, but 10 or less would be a good guess.
This group, this small group, has managed to convince the mayor of Peachland to change the normal development approval process while accusing a council member of wrongdoing and attempting to blur real issues through a cloak of dirty tactics.
For about a dozen years, Steve Allison has been a businessperson in Peachland. In that time, his business has grown, he’s taken advantage of that and bought land in the downtown core. During that time, no one in Peachland was going after him or his business. There were no vengeful campaigns, no outcries at council meetings. It wasn’t until Allison proposed a new building to replace the Edgewater and Aegean Grill buildings that he became an evil despot in the eyes of The Group.
Why did this happen? Because Allison went from businessman to developer (apparently the evilest of terms to The Group). The moment he became a developer, The Group went after him, his business, his proposal and now, people allegedly associated with him.
The Group has managed to convince Mayor Keith Fielding that their views and opinions on the proposed development have not been heard in a respectful manner. This led Fielding, on his own (there was no council vote on the matter) to declare that three professionals (likely from outside of Peachland) will review submissions from the public and the form and character of the building and make recommendations to council.
Respectful? Members of The Group attempted to hijack an Advisory Planning Committee meeting for their own agenda. They were continually told what the meeting agenda was and they refused to stick to the topic.
One of the key members of The Group sat in a council meeting and, out loud, said senior staff were “lying”. That same person, during another meeting, kept muttering “shame, shame, shame” as council members spoke. Is that respectful?
Members of The Group have thrown a red herring in the mix by raising the spectre of a casino. On this website and another, comments stated Allison said in a newspaper article that the proposed building would become a casino. When that untruth was exposed (Allison never said that in the article), comments then shifted to the like of, “Well he could try and build one.” He could also try and build a nude foot massage parlour, but if he did, it would all come out as normal and everyone would have their chance to voice their opinions on it. Raising the casino issue was nothing more than a weak attempt by The Group to cloud the real issues and get people worked up over nothing.
Then there’s the conflict of interest. The Group is trying to create an issue out of one councillor’s relationship with Allison. It is hitting below the belt and shows a complete misunderstanding of the law.
Yes, Peter Schierbeck used to work for one of Allison’s companies. He played ball on the company team. If that was all today, there could certainly be a conflict. It isn’t today, it was years ago.
But its the perception of conflict of interest that is important, says The Group. No, it is not. How municipalities and council members conduct themselves is covered under two pieces of provincial legislation: the Local Government Act and the Community Charter. Conflict of interest is dealt with in those acts. It has to be, both to let council members know what they can or cannot vote on and to let the public know that perception does not matter but the law does.
Knowing someone is not a conflict of interest. Having an association with someone is not a conflict of interest. If they were, small towns like Peachland would be in an awful bind, because council members know and associate with a lot of people.
Although the acts do cover potential conflicts if a council member votes on an issue involving a close friend or a relative, the big one is whether the council members has a pecuniary interest in the matter at hand. In layman’s terms, if the council member votes on a matter, could he or she gain financially by the decision? That’s the test and it’s really the only one that matters.
Peter Schierbeck has been put in a negative spotlight by The Group, simply because he knows and has previously associated with Steve Allison.
The only reason Schierbeck’s past has been raised is because The Group is desperate to stop the proposed development and they will apparently resort to any kind of tactic, dirty or otherwise, to advance their cause.
Real conflict of interest is a journalist’s dream. There certainly have been cases in the past and they make reporters salivate. A previous newspaper publisher in Peachland told the story of how he was reporting on a rezoning matter in a small town in Alberta when he discovered that one of the council members who voted in favor of the rezoning, through undisclosed means, owned part of the property. He stood to gain a huge financial windfall by voting on the development. That is conflict of interest.
Knowing someone in Peachland is not conflict of interest. If it were, it could be exceedingly difficult for council to get anything done.
Imagine for a moment if The Group’s definition of conflict of interest was the law. Vern Moberg may not be able to vote on much at council. He used to drive a school bus. Clearly if an issue came before council for a vote and a person involved in the issue had his kids driven to school by Moberg and, heaven forbid, that person said, “Good morning,” to Moberg day after day, Moberg could be associated with that person and would be in conflict of interest and would have to step aside.
Eldon Kerbes is a member of the Peachland Lions Club. Should Kerbes be allowed to vote on a matter involving a person that Kerbes served a hamburger to at World of Wheels? What if Kerbes served a burger to a developer and they talked for 45 seconds?
Terry Condon was the first person to donate money to the Board for Life Society, which was trying to build a skate park years ago. He associated with members of the society. If one of those members today came before council, apparently Condon would have to recuse himself.
This could go on and on. If one digs deep enough, one could find all sorts of ridiculous conflicts of interest in Peachland. That’s why provincial law spells it out. It doesn’t matter if you think there is a conflict. All that matters is whether provincial law has been broken.
Using The Group’s criteria, there is one more potential conflict of interest that should be disclosed, and it is a biggie.
Years ago, Keith Fielding was a member of, or certainly heavily associated with, the Citizens for Responsible Community Planning in Peachland, which later became the Peachland Residents Association, which has several members in The Group.
If Peter Schierbeck can be hauled on the carpet by The Group for a conflict of interest in Allison’s development, then Keith Fielding has a problem of his own.
The Group is the same group of people who complained that their views were not heard in a respectful manner. That resulted in Fielding declaring there would be a new step in the development process for Allison’s proposal.
What is good for the goose is good for the gander.
Keith Fielding was associated with members of the CRCPP years ago. Some of those people are now members of the PRA and at least several of them are members of The Group.
Members of The Group complained their opinions were not heard. Fielding has associated with some of those members. Fielding decided to add an extra step in the development process to placate The Group. Fielding is, according to The Group’s criteria, in a conflict of interest.
The extra step should be deemed null and void and cancelled. Fielding should recuse himself from making any decisions related to The Group.
People are allowed to not like an aspect of a development, several aspects or the whole project. They have the right to express their views. They should not mask real issues with red herrings and try to drag other people into the mud.
P.S. A letter in this week’s Peachland View, though having the headline ‘Theoretically speaking…’ speaks to the casino issue. It reads:
Hold on to your seats folks, the destruction of Peachland’s downtown as we know it, is about to begin if the hotel property is developed as planned. Mr. Allison made it quite clear at a chamber of commerce annual general meeting held in the Gasthaus on May 16, 2011 that he was planning on building a casino.
That’s right, a casino in the monstrous new 40,000 sq. ft. building on the Edgewater and Chinese Laundry properties.
Author: Richard Smith
Lies, damn lies, and mudslinging.