As Penticton city staff prepare to finalize their recommendations to council on the proposed Canadian Horizons development on Spiller Road, opposition to the development continues to grow.
The 300-plus home development, proposed by Canadian Horizons to be built on land adjacent to the Campbell Mountain landfill, has received heavy opposition from many residents of both Naramata and Penticton.
The city’s director of development services, Blake Laven, said he believes there’s a lot of “misinformation” on what is actually being proposed for the area circulating among locals.
The 160-acre property is currently zoned as country residential. Canadian Horizons has applied for a re-zoning application to change the current zoning to a mixture of large-lot residential, small-lot residential and small-lot with lanes.
City staff are currently in the process of reviewing the application and expect to make a proposal to council on how to proceed in the next few months, according to Laven.
Lyndie Hill, a born and raised Penticton resident and owner/operator of Penticton’s Hoodoo Adventure Company, has become one of the more vocal opponents of the development. Hill is concerned that if the development is approved it will take her beloved city in a “direction that we can’t return from, opening doors for further development, that can’t be closed,” she said in a letter written to the Western News.
Hill is part of a much larger movement to stop the development, as over 10,000 residents have signed a petition to voice their opposition. A website, preservenaramatabench.com, has also been created but is currently down.
Hill believes that if the development is built it will trigger a waterfall effect, leading to more “unsuitable” development in the hillsides of Penticton and the surrounding area.
Hill does see the need for new housing developments in Penticton but believes the downtown area is better suited than the hills. “There’s still a lot of potential to grow up in Penticton and not grow out,” she said.
However, according to Laven, the property for the proposed development is one of the few pieces of land left where hillside development would be allowed.
“If you look at our official community plan we’ve actually reduced a lot of the areas designated for this type of development, this is the one pocket that’s left to satisfy our housing needs,” Laven said. “I don’t think it’s fair to say because we’re going to allow development here that we’re just going to allow unfettered development throughout the rest of the hillsides.”
Hill is not necessarily against developing the area, but she is however against changing the zoning from country residential.
According to Hill, development in the area that falls under country residential zoning would be more suitable. “But that’s not going to make the developer money so they’re not going to do that,” she said.
Despite being a local business owner, the prospect of bringing homes for 300-plus families and the resulting economic benefits to Penticton does not outweigh the negatives of the development for Hill.
She says long-term sustainability and preservation of what makes Penticton and the surrounding area unique is more valuable than attracting new people to town. She also has doubts that the homes would be desirable to potential home-buyers.
“Even with people with lots of money… they want to move to Penticton for its recreational value,” she said. “It’s not because we’re booming with jobs for them to come here, we don’t have this bustling industry that people are going to move here and be a part of.
“In some ways, you’re putting the cart before the horse, you have all these expensive houses but where are the jobs to pay the people who are living in them?”
City staff are currently putting together a financial analysis of the impacts of the development. A current draft of the financial analysis has shown “hefty returns” in taxes for the city, Laven said.
Further, from a business owner’s perspective, Laven predicts the community will also benefit from the development. “Having this type of housing is going to be a huge attraction to professional classes; doctors, dentists lawyers, teachers, police. This is housing for that middle-upper income bracket.
“They’re going to dine downtown, they’re going to be shopping downtown, they’re going to be contributing to the local economy, they’re going to be contributing their children to the school systems…”
Despite the benefits of community growth, Laven did highlight traffic as a potential and identified issue. Upper Bench Road and Naramata Road will be busier if the development happens.
A handful of intersections in the area have been identified as needing upgrades to handle the extra traffic and changes will have to be made if the rezoning application is to be approved, Laven said.
Another potential problem with the development is its proximity to Campbell Mountain Landfill. The city received a study detailing that anywhere within 500 metres of the landfill area is likely going to have issues with residential development, large in part due to the landfill’s compost site.
However, only 15 per cent of the development proposed development’s area falls within 500 metres of the landfill.
“We are looking at how to deal with any housing proposed in that area,” Laven said. “For the little bit of housing proposed in that (500 metre) area we’re trying to see how to phase that in… maybe that happens after the compost site is moved or maybe there’s additional buffering put in place, but we’re definitely aware of the additional the hazards of developing within close proximity to a landfill.”
The proximity to the landfill is also one of the concerns for Hill and those in opposition to the development. On top of environmental concerns, Hill thinks the landfill will likely scare off potential buyers, detracting from the proposed economic benefits of the development.
“Are we just going to destroy this land and people aren’t even going to want to live there because it smells and the traffic’s bad and all the houses look the same and are cookie-cutter?” Hill asked. “That’s what people are moving here from Vancouver to get away from, they’re not moving here for a place that’s exactly like Vancouver.
“We all want what’s best, but let’s ensure the benefits of our developing city reach beyond our generation, past the pockets of a few individuals and into a healthier community for all generations to come.”
City staff intend to introduce a recommendation on the rezoning application to council in the coming months, likely by the end of February, according to Laven.
If people have concerns about the development, Laven encourages them to voice their concerns to city council so council can weigh the community’s concerns with any perceived benefits of the development.
“If the community doesn’t feel that this is the right thing for Penticton then we probably shouldn’t build it,” Laven said. “It’s going to be up to city council to weigh all of that and make a decision.
“If you’re in favour of it you should let council know and if you have concerns with it you should let council know as well.”
Laven concluded by recommending that people in opposition suggest an alternative for a better development. “Is it lower density? Is it more trees? More park space? Better access? Wildlife corridors? Rather than just opposing something what do you see as an alternative?”