Two lawsuits seek to block Penticton park deal

A new civil suit has been filed in hopes of blocking commercial development in Penticton's Skaha Lake Park.

Last summer

Last summer

The summer weather in Penticton is starting to heat up, and so are actions against a possible waterslide development in Skaha Lake Park.

At the same time as the Save Skaha Park Society announced it is proceeding with its civil claim against the City of Penticton and Trio Marine Group, another suit has been filed to prevent the city from proceeding with a deal to lease a portion of the park to Trio.

Read more: Opposition to Skaha development said they won’t slide away

Skaha Lake Park battle heading to the courts

The society filed their suit in Sept. 2015, but suspended it earlier this year to give the city time to work with Trio and negotiate a better solution. That, they say, seems to have come to an end.

“We were so encouraged over the winter. That is why we put everything on hold, things looked to be going well,” said SSPS spokesperson Lisa Martin. “And then there was literally a turn of events, where we learned talks had stalled between the city and Trio.”

After delaying their civil claim for more than six months, Martin said the SSPS directors decided they couldn’t wait anymore.

“We are up to 4,500 members and they expect something of us. It became time to act. Believe me, we took no pleasure in going down this road,” said Martin.

On July 28, Nelson Meikle also filed a civil claim in B.C. Supreme Court against the City of Penticton and Trio Marine Group. Meikle, who described himself in the claim as a 20-plus year resident of Penticton and a regular use of Skaha Park, echoes many of the concerns raised in the SSPS civil claim.

Meikle’s claim takes the argument a step further, arguing that the city was acting outside its powers in both deals signed with Trio: the development agreement for Skaha Marina, neighbouring the park, and the agreement to lease a portion of the park proper.

“Where a trust exists compelling use of lands as a public park, it is not within the city’s authority, directly, indirectly or colourably, to use or permit Skaha Park to be used except as a public park,” reads Meikle’s claim.

Meikle is also asking the court to compel the city to hold a referendum and seek the approval of the electorate if it wants to proceed with any agreements on park land.

“I guess two fronts are better than one, it is probably a good thing,” said Martin, who added the two court actions are not connected. “It has nothing to do with SSPS, he is acting absolutely independently.”

When contacted by the Western News, Meikle said he wasn’t ready to discuss why he chose to file an independent civil claim. Likewise, Tom Dyas of Trio Marine said he had just found out about the suit and wasn’t willing to comment.

Mayor Andrew Jakubeit still hopes a solution can be found outside of the courtroom, but added the city has instructed its legal counsel to file a response to the SSPS civil suit.

“We are still very optimistic that we can get to some sort of resolution without going to court, but to get all players to the starting line, maybe responding is that next step,” said Jakubeit.

Settling the issue out of court would be the best outcome for all involved, according to Jakubeit.

“We hope Mr. Meikle agrees that out of court solutions are best for taxpayers,” he said.

Martin said the SSPS is also trying to keep costs down.

“Ultimately, the taxpayers are going to be the ones who pay. And the people in SSPS pay twice, through their taxes and through supporting us too,” she said. “We did everything we could to be fiscally responsible, but in the end, it didn’t work out the way we had hoped.”

“As a result of the new and disappointing turn of events between the COP and Trio, SSPS has no alternative but to proceed with the next stage of the legal process, the discovery of documents phase,” reads the SSPS press release.

This phase, the society warns, could take several months to complete and a court date, should one be necessary, could be eight to 12 months later, possibly extending the process into 2018.

Jakubeit points out that the city is taking action from another direction, through the Parks and Recreation Master Plan.

“One of the main tenants of that Master Plan will be to address the decades-old question about the level of commercialization, if any, should be allowed in parks,” he said. “It will also clarify which type of park or activity the community wants and define the level of process required to achieve that outcome.”