Citing concerns about landslides, sinkholes and other dangers, residents from Skaha Benches strata development turned out in force this week to oppose a variance to a neighbouring property.
Lisa McCall, of 3945 Finnerty Road, had hoped council would endorse a variance that would have allowed her to subdivide her property, with the intention of building up to two duplexes on the steeply graded property rising above Skaha Lake, off Lakeside Road.
McCall’s property, as well as part of Skaha Benches, is situated in a “red zone,” an area that the city has flagged as possibly unstable.
“We just had a new study done in November 2011, with a new bore hole sample and we also have the new land slip assurance documents signed by a registered geotechnical engineer,” said Tony White, McCall’s husband. He also cited two previous studies that confirmed the stability of the ground. “We know the ground is solid from a professional standpoint.”
“The City of Penticton, unfortunately, has been the recipient of some slippage to the south of you,” said Mayor Dan Ashton. “We’re the ones with the deep pockets that everybody usually comes after. That’s one of the concerns here.”
Many of those objecting to the variance cited that same incident, where heavy rainfall in June 2006 caused a mudslide on an unstable slope and forced the residents of a condo complex on Gabion Court to evacuate, some for several months.
Council listened to the arguments and counter arguments before coming to their decision.
“This is not a small change, it is a significant change,” said Coun. Judy Sentes, pointing out that variances are usually for minor changes to zoning regulations. She also said she was nervous about the risk not only to city finances, but to life and property.
Those concerns were shared by some other members of council, including Coun. Garry Litke, who visited the property and brought back examples of the soil.
“It’s not a matter of if this is coming down, it’s when,” Litke said, crumbling a clod of earth to sand as he spoke. “Eighty-eight people will sue the city. Taxpayers are at risk of legal action. I can’t support this.”
Coun. Wes Hopkin, who supported the variance, took exception to Litke’s theatrics.
“That’s not science, it’s hocus pocus,” said Hopkin, who felt the decision over the validity of a geotechnical survey should be left to trained city staff.
Finally, with three councillors opposed and two supporting it of the six present, the decision came down to Ashton. Though he agreed the owner would be able to develop the property with different goals, he felt council did not have enough information on their current intentions to allow a variance.
“For myself, I am not comfortable tonight. If it had have been something that would have fit, or something council would have been more comfortable with,” he said, casting his vote against supporting the variance and adding a warning to the Skaha Benches residents. “But I need to say to each and every one of you folks, there will be some development on that property, and it could be a duplex right in front of you.”