Commercial uses of parks is still a contentious issue in Penticton, even after the 18-month long battle over leasing part of Skaha Lake Park was settled last December.
The City of Penticton has shifted gears on the contentious commercial use section included in the Parks and Recreation Master Plan under development.
Peter Weeber, the city’s chief administrative officer, said it’s time to start drafting a parks use policy, and he wants to involve not only PRMP steering committee, but make the Save Skaha Park Society and Citizens First an integral part of the process.
“After that last open house, city council asked us what we could do as a city to better support the committee and give these groups a voice to the committee a little more consistently,” said Weeber, adding that he has been having conversations with members of both the Save Skaha Park Society and Citizens First, the two main groups who opposed the leasing of park space so a developer could build a commercial waterslide complex.
“I wasn’t surprised to hear that we do, in fact, share a common vision,” said Weeber, echoing a comment that parks are designed to bring people together
“In this case, this issue has torn us apart and divided the community to some extent,” said Weeber. “I got the sense that our common vision is to protect parks.”
The move comes after the city released the second draft of the PRMP, and found commercial use opponents, like the SSPS, calling them out on some points of the draft.
“The other elements that are in the master plan got overshadowed by the whole conversation about commercialization. We always sort of circle back to chapter 7 (commercial use policy),” said Mayor Andrew Jakubeit.
Weeber said that city staff, particularly Anthony Haddad, director of development services and parks supervisor Jeff Lynka, will develop the parks use policy, submitting drafts to the steering committee for comment and direction.
SSPS and Citizens First will also have the opportunity to be directly involved in the process, and be able to comment on the development of the policy.
“We would engage them also in this process, knowing that it whatever is created comes back to this group (the steering committee),” said Weeber.
“I think it is a fundamental shift in what we have been doing. If the community were to feel that we are all moving forward together, I think we could accomplish a lot.”
Weeber’s announcement came after the SSPS finished a presentation the steering committee had invited them to do, laying out their concerns with the draft master plan and their four recommendations.
The new direction echoes one of the group’s key reccomendations, that the commercial use section be replace with a simpler “permitted uses.” They also want public approval of any new lease on parkland and amend the 2002 park dedication bylaw to remove a controversial clause they say gives the city the power to override a park dedication.
Dr. Gerry Karr, who spoke on behalf of the SSPS, said opposition to commercial development is nothing new, that votes in 1965, 1985 and 2002 showed the community’s will.
“The city has shown consistently that it opposes commercial development in parks,” said Karr.
The SSPS also wanted to see language removed from the draft indicating Penticton residents support most commercial uses in parks. That was something steering committee chair Ron Ramsay agreed with.
“When I read that statement in the executive summary, I winced,” said Ramsay.