City turns garden into public parking lot

Downtown space quickly converted from past use despite staff's assurance the change would be a long time coming

With apologies to Joni Mitchell, it didn’t take Penticton long to pave paradise and put up a parking lot.

While it might not have been everyone’s idea of paradise, the educational garden built by members of the Penticton Urban Agriculture Association was an attempt on their part to create something out of nothing in a corner of an empty lot at Ellis and Nanaimo.

Today, what was an educational space, teaching people how to grow their own food and donating the produce grown there to the Soupateria and the Food Bank, is now a parking lot.

This is despite assurances in March from city hall that the city had no intention to do anything with the lot, while at the same time rejecting PUAA’s plea to extend the lease the city had given them.

The last time PUAA appeared before council, Coun. Katie Robinson asked what the future plans for the parking lot were, particularly whether it could be a lot.

“There is potential for the use of the subject parcel for a temporary parking lot, but that would have to be approved through the budget process,” said Anthony Haddad, director of planning services.

But times change, and when appropriate fill became available, the city realized it could solve two problems at the same time, with recycled asphalt from a capital works project in another area of the city.

Mayor Garry Litke said he wasn’t aware of the work being done on the property this week, but city staff were able to explain how the change in direction came about.

“We had millings, fresh, straight off the grinder and at the same time, we were having a situation where we needed to conduct weed control on the former urban agriculture site,” said Simone Blais, the city’s communications officer.

That meant, she said, that the parking lot extension came at low cost to the city, with the only charges being for a couple of days grading work.

“We have no short or long-term plans for that property, but we thought at least we can extend the parking,” said Mitch Moroziuk, director of operations, explaining that they have heard complaints about the lack of parking downtown on Saturdays.

“Otherwise, it was going to sit there and grow weeds.”

The city also managed to move so quickly because PUAA was willing to vacate the property ahead of June 30, which is when their lease was due to run out.

At the city’s request, PUAA president Kathryn McCourt signed off on the lease as soon as the association had cleared out the last of their materials.

“They started in the morning and I was able to do the sign off that afternoon,” she said.

Eva Durance, one of the founders of PUAA, has other concerns about what is happening on the property.

“It is the city’s property, but what bothers me is it is very close to the creek and that recycled asphalt is porous. Presumably all that junk is going to go down into the soil,” said Durance, who has been in touch with the Ministry of Environment to find out the appropriate setback from the riparian zone around Penticton Creek.

“It is lower than the walkway.

“ It would drain into the water table or the creek, which is maybe even worse.”

Both McCourt and Durance say it is disappointing to see three years of the association’s work converted into a parking lot.

Durance points out that a rammed-earth bench, built by people taking one of their classes, was also destroyed when the lot was levelled.

McCourt agreed that is a loss, but is concerned about the larger issue that PUAA was trying to address with the educational garden.

“I am more disappointed to see that there is very little understanding of the  importance of increasing our local food security and getting more people to grow their own food,” said McCourt.

“That doesn’t seem to be on the radar at all as far as an issue of importance goes.”