At a recent Advisory Planning Committee (APC) meeting set up to include an opportunity for public comment about the “form and character” of the proposed TNI building, emotions ran high.
The APC chairperson had a difficult task, but was right to insist that speakers stay on topic, to remind those present of the rules, and to discourage interruption, cheering and applause.
Nevertheless, for a variety of reasons (including perhaps that the APC may not have been the best forum to entertain public input on a matter that inspired such interest and emotion) it is clear that at the conclusion of the meeting all parties, the applicant, the committee, and many of those in attendance felt angry, dissatisfied and bruised by the experience.
Yes, we could now move on, arguing that there has been ample opportunity for public input, that there was overwhelming support for the building concept at the Open House, and that we should now ignore dissenting opinion on the basis that it is the inevitable outcome of a debate in which subjective views are brought to bear on the question of what constitutes a pleasant and “charrette-appropriate” building design. However, to do so when there is a simple mechanism for bringing objective, professional opinions, to bear on the issues would be to miss an opportunity to turn a festering “win-lose” controversy, into a constructive way forward.
For a minimal cost and minor timeline delay (possibly no more than two weeks) a three person panel including a representative from the UBC charrette team, an independent Okanagan Architect and a professional Planner, will review written comments from the public, consider them in the context of the charrette report and the Beach Avenue Neighbourhood Plan, and then formulate its own comments on building “form and character”.
The panel’s report will be available by mid-August, and while non-binding on the developer and the municipality, it will allow the parties to move forward, profiting from the considered professional analysis provided by this extra step in the approval process.
The UBC-led “charrette” process was an important exercise in community engagement; one that asked Peachland residents to help define the look, feel, and character of a future revitalized downtown. The community interest generated by the charrette process and the widely accepted vision and plan that emerged from it, clearly reflects the importance that residents place on “getting it right”. It is not surprising therefore that the “form and character” of the first proposed building in the heart of the redevelopment area would draw such interest.
As we all know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so we will never have a complete consensus on the appropriateness of any building design. However, if criticism of the design brings into question whether it is compliant with principles in a publicly generated vision and plan, that question needs to be addressed.
The contribution that TNI brings to Peachland’s economy cannot be overstated. It is our largest employer and by far the largest contributor to our commercial tax base. The company’s success is Peachland’s success, and notwithstanding the importance of public consultation and due process, it is clear that the public interest is best served when current tensions have been put into a proper perspective, the TNI project has been completed, and downtown revitalization has been energized.
Downtown revitalization has long been a Council priority — not just because a healthy and vibrant downtown serves to expand our tax base and sustain our economic well-being, but just as importantly because the downtown core is our commercial and social hub: the place to linger, enjoy the waterfront and experience a unique Peachland “vibe”.
The appropriate way forward is clearly charted, and I look forward to an early resolution of all problems threatening to impede rather than facilitate the realization of revitalization goals.