Penticton council voted unanimously to take the high road with a developer who wants his $47,850 security back from the city despite not completing a stairwell he agreed to build in exchange for rezoning.
Council opted to instruct staff to further investigate the city’s options, leaving outdoor enthusiasts keen on having public access to the network of trails on Campbell Mountain unclear on where that access may be located and how it will be paid for.
Indeed, after a one-hour public hearing, followed by lengthy city council deliberations, the only thing that seemed clear Monday evening was that Dale Carnegie’s 1937 best-seller How to Win Friends and Influence People does not play an important role in Victor Durman’s life.
Using a somewhat aggressive and condescending tone, the West Vancouver developer reiterated his position that the city has no right to use his security money for any project other than the stairwell, including a more user-friendly route to the Campbell Mountain lands starting near the Penticton Fly Fishers headquarters. And that because the plans to build the stairwell have been frustrated due to the proposed project’s proximity to a Streamside Protection and Enhancement Area, the city should either give back the money or negotiate a resolution with him.
Presenting no evidence to back up his claim, Durman accused city staff of convincing him to agree to build the stairwell while at the same time knowing that the province had already turned it down.
He also blamed the media for the public misconception that the security money could be used for the alternative route. However, it is still up for legal debate to determine whether that is true. If not, it would not be the first time Durman has overstated his case.
During the first public hearing on the matter last December, Durman told council he had exhausted all options in trying to convince both provincial and federal regulators to let him build the stairwell.
“I can honestly say that we did everything we could to mitigate the riparian setbacks,” Durman said at the time.
However, upon initial discussions and site visits with both the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Ministry of Environment, city staff have received feedback that should Durman apply for a hardship variance that “a design solution could likely be developed at the original access point which would” allow the stairwell to be built.
At Monday’s hearing Durman admitted that he had not applied for the hardship variance after an environmental consultant had advised him not to bother with it because he believed it would take a long time, it would be costly and he wouldn’t win it.
Durman also said that the design of the stairwell would be unsafe, hard to maintain and unpopular with those want access to Campbell Mountain — an assertion certainly shared by Penticton and Area Cycling Association president Andrew Drouin and other stakeholder groups who prefer the alternative route, although at least two presenters at the hearing maintained that the stairwell access would be good for hikers.
Durman asked council to “empower” city CAO Annette Antoniak to negotiate an arrangement that would satisfy both parties as both he and council appear to hold her in high regard. And according to Antoniak, that meeting took place Tuesday morning.
“It went well,” Antoniak said Tuesday afternoon. “I think we made some progress. I will report to council and you will probably hear about it at the (June 6) council meeting.”