Ah the dog days of summer. Peachland youth work to fit in their last hours at Swim Bay, home gardens overflow with luscious crops and the mayor of Peachland finds himself mired in the middle of a controversy called the TNI development.
Summers are rarely a time for contentious issues in Peachland; heat, sun and fun are the orders of the day. Fall is typically the time when attentions turn to matters of the district. This year downtown revitalization has stayed the course, despite the Okanagan summer.
What began as the first solid proposal for downtown Peachland since the sewer system was snaked along Beach Avenue in the late 1990s has turned into a divisive situation.
This morning, on CBC Radio’s Daybreak South, TNI President Steve Allison claimed the District of Peachland has screwed around with the development process. Mayor Keith Fielding claims it’s more about miscommunication.
Allison wants to tear down the Edgewater and Aegean Grill buildings to make way for a new, three-storey building that would house commercial shops, considerable office space and condos. Fielding claims that downtown redevelopment is a council priority. Goals, on the surface, seem to be aligned, but dealing with the process has turned into something akin of having a root canal without freezing.
One could easily point a finger at the Peachland Residents Association (and some people who may or not be members of the group but have voiced similar outrage toward the development) and its near constant barking about everything that is wrong with the TNI proposal as one cause of the main problem.
The PRA has been very critical of the development. A parking covenant associated with the project is wrong. The building size is wrong. The town’s development process is wrong. The mass of the building is wrong. And on and on. Being so vocal, one could easily believe that the PRA is at, or at least near, the center of the problem. The reality is that the group is no more worrisome than a kennel full of loud canines.
A line in a Tom Clancy novel describes the situation with the PRA well. It goes something like, “When a dog lifts its leg on a fire hydrant, it’s not committing vandalism, it’s just being a dog.”
The PRA is just being the PRA. That they, and/or people aligned with them, have resorted to communicating bad information, misleading the public and not telling the truth is just par for the course.
That the leader of the PRA, which has consistently expressed an anti-development message, may have been affiliated with the Communist Party of Canada should not divert attention from the real matters at hand.
Developer = profit = bad. Peachland = developer’s dream = potential profit = bad. It’s not rocket science to see how communism and the PRA’s lust for painting negative pictures of development go together well. Again, in the big scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. Dogs bark, communists don’t get along with capitalists and the PRA doesn’t like the TNI proposal. Move on.
It’s not the PRA’s complaining to the mayor that added to the problem of getting a decision on the proposed development. It is that the mayor kowtowed to a few upset people and decided to change an already stringent development process mid-stride that is the issue.
It’s not the PRA’s hijacking of a council committee meeting by demanding they be heard on topics irrelevant to the committee that should be focused on. It is that the hijacking was allowed to take place at all.
Small groups of upset people, who are always upset about a given topic and always will be upset about that topic should not have the capability of affecting drastic change on a process that is already daunting to the applicant.
Mayors should not make unilateral decisions resulting in changes to a known process without publicly debating the issue in open council and allowing council members to vote. (It’s good politics too. Seven small targets are much better than one big target.)
The process should be absolutely crystal clear for everyone involved. Major changes should not happen without frank discussions. Goal posts should not be moved when players are running toward the goal line.
There are a number of issues related to the TNI proposal but there are two that seem to be holding up the process. Both were touched on in the CBC Daybreak story.
Not so long ago, the district decided to require more cash from developers in the form of an amenity contribution. Developers would pay a fee to go toward future amenities, such as fire halls, skate parks and other such things.
Allison claims he was told outright that his development would not be subject to the amenity contribution levy. Later on, as the process continued, he learned the district wanted amenity money from him. The mayor claims the development will be getting a break on the fees, but Allison said it’s tantamount to changing the rules part way through the process.
The other process derailer is the arbitrary decision by the mayor to throw an extra step in the development process. Some people complained that their views were not heard. The mayor, on his own, decided to assemble a panel of three experts to review the TNI proposal and give its recommendations.
The implications of the mayor’s decision are troubling. It sends a message to all developers that regardless how well they understand the development process in Peachland, it can change with no notice.
Interestingly, the PRA is not happy with the panel situation. They weren’t allowed to meet with the panel. They could only send in written submissions, while the developer (Allison) was allowed to sit down with panel members.
Or was he? It isn’t clear if Allison actually met with the panel.
The panel, in fact, has turned into Peachland’s little version of Area 51, all secret and wrapped in an air of cloak and dagger. Neither the mayor nor the district has released the names of the panel members, their backgrounds or where they came from.
Taxpayers footed the bill for the panel to convene, which apparently took place some time ago. No report has been released. When the mayor announced that the panel would happen, he let it be known that the decision of the group would be made available in mid-August. That led some to believe that some kind of document would be released to the public.
No document has been released. In fact, the mayor said Friday that if the TNI proposal makes it to the development permit stage, the panel’s comments would become part of a staff report to council.
Will the public ever see what the panel came up with? That is not known.
Welcome to Peachland. We say we want our downtown redeveloped, but be wary of the rules and procedures, which are not set in stone and can be changed on a whim.
Oh, and ignore the barking dogs.