Vaseux Lake subdivision runs counter to regional strategy

Regional district board gives preliminary approval to 12-lot subdivision that is at odds with regional growth strategy

A hard-fought regional planning policy was defeated last week in its “first test.”

In a 9-4 vote, the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen gave preliminary approval to a proposed 12-lot residential subdivision on Vaseux Lake in an area that is not designated for settlement in a regional growth strategy.

That strategy, adopted in 2010, was intended as guide for where future growth and settlement in the area should occur. It did not designate the Vaseux Lake site as one of those areas, so the development would be “inconsistent with the goals and policies” of the plan, according to a staff report that suggested directors deem it as such.

Allan Patton, the director for rural Oliver, said allowing the development would severely undermine the policy document.

“If we’re going to take the regional growth strategy seriously, we have to decline this, deny this. If not, please, let’s just get rid of the regional growth strategy and admit that we spent 10 years for nothing,” Patton told colleagues.

The development is proposed for a four-hectare parcel on the southeast shore of Vaseux Lake and would feature 12 homes and a vineyard. Neighbouring properties are owned by conservation groups.

Brad Elenko, who spoke on behalf of the project, parsed the language contained in the growth strategy and noted the land is already zoned for a campground, so he cautioned the result of a negative vote by the board could “very well be a 65-unit RV resort.

He also said the Agricultural Land Commission has already given its blessing to the plan, and since there are already homes at the south end of the lake about 550 metres away, the new subdivision would “not be an intrusion into an undeveloped area,” but rather “an extension or infill into an existing developed area.”

RDOS planner Evelyn Reichert noted the development would still need regular zoning amendments, but because it is contrary to the growth strategy, she recommended it go to the board first to see if directors were interested in allowing it to proceed through the normal approval process.

“This is the first test” of the growth strategy, she said. “It is the first time that you’re going to be discussing this, so it is the test case.”

Directors then debated whether or not the strategy is a living document that is open to amendment like an official community plan.

RDOS chief administrative officer Bill Newell told the board the strategy is considered a “superior” document.

“It took us 10 years to get this thing,” Newell said, and it would be “very difficult” to amend it.

Tom Styffe, the alternate director for the area in which the proposed development is sited, said the growth strategy “was never intended on being a living document,” and comes “complete with its warts and its problems and so on.”

Board chair Dan Ashton, however, said he viewed the strategy as “not a thou-shalt or thou-shalt-not” document, but rather “a thou-shalt-think-about-it” guideline.

After nearly an hour of debate, Okanagan directors voted against Styffe’s motion that would have declared the proposal inconsistent with the strategy and effectively killed it. The only other supporters were Patton, Ron Hovanes and Garry Litke. Directors from the Similkameen were excluded from the vote because their region opted out of the strategy.

The proposal will undergo further scrutiny by the board at a later date if, and when, the proponent applies for the necessary zoning amendments.