Coun. John Vassilaki would like to see some major improvements to the Okanagan Lake waterfront, but he isn’t likely to see them anytime soon, after Penticton city council chose to endorse a minimalist approach to the waterfront revitalization this week.
Vassilaki was the only council member to support going ahead with some version of the original two concept plans presented in August, rather than reducing the work done to the bare minimum. The lakefront revitalization is a project that comes along every 30 to 40 years, Vassilaki said, and for that reason it has to be thought out carefully.
“City council has a vision and we must be allowed to carry out that vision,” he said, explaining that his concern that self-interest groups were gaining so much influence over the city that council sometimes had problems making decisions that would be of benefit to the whole community. Contrary to the popular conception, Vassilaki said Penticton’s beaches aren’t the best in the world.
“They are beautiful, but we must stop fooling ourselves. Compared to beaches in the Caribbean, California, Florida and Europe, we don’t even come close,” he said.
While he wanted to see two-way traffic and angle parking along Lakeshore Drive maintained, he did want to retain the plazas, day moorage dock and other facets of the first concepts implemented to bring the beaches up to a world-class level.
“I will not jeopardize my integrity by doing a minimal amount of improvements so I can continue to occupy a seat on city council,” he said, advocating that the city should borrow money to complete the project quickly, in time to show it off during the first Challenge Penticton race next year.
“In order to do the improvements correctly, I am of the opinion that this project should have a budget of $4 to 5 million.”
However, Vassilaki was a lone voice among the city council. The majority of council supported what is known as Option 4, with some modifications.
Option 4 would see the infrastructure problems repaired, a wider walkway, a small plaza at Power Street and mobility-challenged access to the beach and water. It doesn’t include parallel parking or one-way traffic, both of which caused vocal protests in late August.
As it currently stands, Option 4 will cost about $550,000 more than the $1.2 million gas tax grant already allocated to the project. A less expensive Option 3 would have only seen infrastructure problems repaired.
“That is where my debt tolerance is,” said Coun. Andrew Jakubeit.
If council were to spend money on any project, he continued, he would rather see it going to downtown revitalization, where it would give the city “more bang for our buck.”
Option 4 rated high for Coun. Judy Sentes, who expressed a view shared by several of the councillors, that it laid the foundation for more enhancements should city council choose to consider that in the future.
“The reason I am voting for this option is it allows for future councils to be able to make improvements,” said Coun. Helen Konanz, who strongly supports the widening of the pathway. “I want to be able to allow bikes and roller blades and strollers and wheelchairs to be accessible on that path.”
In the end, council chose to endorse Option 4, referring it to the 2013 budget planning process, which begins on Nov. 29, for adjustment and further discussion. Along with the $1.2 million gas tax grant, council also held out the possibility of diverting funds from the West Bench water sale to help support the waterfront project.
“We have some grant funding and possible opportunities that will come from the sale of water to West Bench, which are helping shore up the coffers a tiny bit,” said Ashton.
Chief financial officer Doug Leahy explained that while the grant money coming from the West Bench water sale is targeted to support the water utility, council does have the ability to transfer surpluses from the utilities reserves to other projects.
In addition to other changes, Option 4 also includes the removal of the mounds on the western portion of Lakawanna Park. These mounds are part of Lorna Greene’s 2002 earth sculpture “Play, Perform and Picnic,” created as part of the Okanagan Thompson International Sculpture Symposium.