Penticton neighbourhood wins battle to keep green space

City council scraps plan to rezone lots along KVR Trail near Pen High

Paul Varga (left)

Paul Varga (left)

It looks like you can fight city hall. Or at least convince them to see your point of view.

That’s what residents of Gahan Avenue found Tuesday night during a public hearing at Penticton City Hall, after working out a compromise with the city. At issue were two city-owned properties in their neighborhood, a section of green space that bisects the 500 block between Gahan and Eckhardt Avenues, forming a link in the KVR Trail.

One of the residents, Larry Jagger, did his best to make sure the neighbourhood knew the possible consequences of the city rezoning the lots in order to sell them and to get as many as possible out to the public hearing.

“They are looking to switch it from parkland to multi-family residential, RM-3, which means up to five storeys high,” said Jagger. “In that area, number one it is strictly single-family dwellings, so having a five-storey apartment or condo would be very much out of context.”

Paul Varga, who lives next door to the lots in question, agrees they are not in the best of shape. While making them an official park would be preferable, he was pleased to see something happening.

“It’s a dumping ground for refuse, it is treated as the KVR’s garbage can by people walking along the path,” said Varga, adding his concerns about vandalism and deer that have taken up residence in the green space.

City staff proposed to rezone the properties so they could be sold, but maintain a 30-foot path along one side for the KVR Trail. One of the lots, 518 Eckhardt, was put up for sale in 1998, but neighborhood requests to develop a tot-lot prompted the city to un-list the property. No proposals ever came forward.

The new compromise has the city backing off its plans to rezone and sell the properties. Area residents are going to have to take a hand in maintaining the green space, an idea that gathered the approval of both neighbourhood representatives and council after Coun. Andrew Jakubeit proposed it

“We are here to listen to the people. If the green space is going to be utilized effectively, then it is something we could consider, but it will take a partnership,” said Mayor Dan Ashton as council voted to oppose the rezoning of the lots. He added a caution that the sale plans could be reintroduced if the neighborhood didn’t follow through.

Coun. Garry Litke was of the same mind, saying that for the time being, he was willing to give it a chance.

“I regularly run through that property and down that trail. Recognizing that it was city-owned property, I was often embarrassed by the fact there were grocery bags and newspaper. Sometimes I would recognize the same trash and no one was picking it up,” said Litke. “I hear that something has changed since 1998. I hear that there is a neighbourhood that is willing to take some responsibility of care for that property.”

“I have no issue with putting some sweat equity into this,” said Jagger. “If that means buying a gas-powered weed eater and weed eating along it myself to keep it nice, that would be fine if the city is willing to put money into it.”

While the strip is not a maintained park, Jagger said it is used by a wide variety of people, not just those from the neighborhood.

“Part of the lifestyle is the parks in the area. I walk my dog on that trail almost every day,” said Jagger. “Most of the trail users I spoke to were not asking you to develop a park out of it, they are happy leaving it the way it is, just as green space.”