The brakes have been put on for local cyclist associations, as the city has decided to analyze the site of 650 Munson Mountain Road before choosing what to do with it.
The decision to hire an agrologist was made at the May 19 council meeting. The service was quoted at $4,450 plus staff time.
Sampling the soil will give council direction as to how they figure out the best use for the property near Munson Mountain. The decision to hire an agrologist came a week after the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) denied an application to use the site for a BMX skills park. A new application will have to be submitted to the ALC if the city wants to make another bid to use the property for non-agricultural purposes.
The outcome of the application led council to discuss the prospect of finding a new location for the BMX park, but with nothing definite, both sides of the campaign made their voices heard.
“As a hiker, photographer and cyclist, I don’t see the ability to enjoy nature and the presence of a mountain bike and BMX skills park as mutually exclusive,” said Gary McBride with the Penticton and Area Cycling Association (PACA).
“I’m happy that the city is slowing this process down and that they’re open to looking at different options for this land,” said Lauren Clancy, with Friends of Munson Mountain. “(Instead) I’d like to see an agriculture-based theme park or a lease to a farmer.”
Council will need to receive positive results from the agrology test before leasing or selling the land for agricultural use. Since the site has fallen under scrutiny in recent months, interest in agricultural development has been shown by a local vineyard.
“Council wants to have that info to verify if that’s really the hill to die on for creating a BMX or cycling-friendly parkland,” Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said.
While council can reapply to the ALC on behalf of cycling organizations again, the lengthy process has led them to seek alternatives.
“I would really like council to consider going back to the existing BMX park to see if we can’t enlarge what we need to accommodate their future growth,” said Coun. Andre Martin, which received applause from some of the audience. “Many people were pointing fingers at BMX and that’s the wrong thing to do … it’s not fair to the folks at BMX, all they’re trying to do is grow and become a better asset to the community.”
Though the project was spearheaded by Penticton BMX, PACA was hoping to also turn a portion of the Munson Mountain property into a skills practicing area. That group was very accepting of council’s decision.
“PACA feels that council and staff made the correct choice in deciding to hire a professional third party agronomist to assess whether the Munson Mountain site is suitable for agriculture,” said Laura Harp, PACA president and land access co-ordinator. “We support the best use for the site and are happy that council is committed to finding the best space for an expanded BMX track and skills park which would be a beneficial resource to our community.”
Coun. Max Picton said he hopes the soil testing will prove beneficial for agricultural use, and that he would be disappointed if the lot sat empty for another 10 years.
And if the samples aren’t perfect, Jakubeit said alterations can be made.
“If the soil sample comes back and says its very fertile then great, and even if it says we have to put a bunch more top soil on top — I’m sure that could still be done,” though it could be costly, he said.
Coun. Helena Konanz is OK with leasing the property to a farmer, but she hopes to see it remain an asset of the city.
“It’s a really beautiful piece of land and I think it would be unwise for us to sell it at this time.”
Before council made the decision to solely evaluate the soil at the May 19 meeting, PACA member McBride asked council to submit a new application to the ALC, arguing that Munson Mountain was a prime location for a cycling park space.
“(Munson Mountain) was not a close-your-eyes-and-pick-a-spot-on-the-map process,” he said.
Whatever happens with developing the property will largely depend on the soil test.
“All options are still open, nothing has been decided,” said Coun. Tarik Sayeed. “Let’s get this test completed, and only then can we decide what we will do moving forward.”
Coun. Picton motioned to test the soil, and have staff explore other options for PACA and Penticton BMX simultaneously.
“Staff will just be investigating; not committing to anything,” Mayor Jakubeit said.
The agrology report is expected to take two-to-three weeks.