After 18 months of battling city council to save the grass and trees in Skaha Park, the battle has been won.
From day one of this fiasco this council never listened to the city residents. It took milliseconds for the mayor to sign the contract with Trio, it took hundreds of volunteer hours and donations to protect the public park land from commercial development.
What next? The new revised contract with Trio allows them to develop the Marina and construct a new boat house and relocate and build a new concession.
The revised lease with Trio requires the city to have “consultation” with the public if there are any requests for changes within the terms of the lease. I personally find that word to be somewhat offensive. Why? Where was the “consultation” when residents lined up for over three and half hours at the June 29 public hearing, speaking passionately and telling council to leave our Skaha Park alone? Can we now trust this council to “consult” with us when they ignored our attempts at consultation for the last eighteen months?
What’s next? Many have appealed for council to cancel the contract with Trio. In my opinion and through my experience that would require going into a prolonged court battle over X-amount of years. A very costly battle. In my experience within municipal government that would be a tough case to win. Why? Because the courts generally say that’s what these persons were elected to do, increase the economy of the city, create employment. The courts generally ruling your chance is to vote this council out of office at the next opportunity.
Second appeal being suggested is to take the 29-plus year lease before the court, presenting an argument that it is much too long. Again, a tough argument to win in my opinion. Why? Municipalities campaigned to the provincial government for many years to have the right to longer leases, specifically to encourage private investment on public land. A longer lease would guarantee a better return for investors. Based on that history, that argument on the length of the lease would be difficult for any court to overturn.
To reiterate, to take these two appeals before the court to have them overturned would be a great cost to the taxpayers, not just in legal fees, but potential financial damages awarded to the contractor/lease holder. In truth the court decision could cause a fairly substantial raise in property taxes. Tax dollars fighting the tax payers.
The only way to have this contract and the lease overturned is if procedure as set out in the Municipal Charter was not followed/adhered to particularly before the public hearing.
Many municipalities have had zonings and contracts overturned by the courts where the rules were not followed prior to a public hearing. I found it interesting to hear Trio state that they had met with the city almost five years ago.
The most important outcome of this fiasco is to have clear wording within the park zoning by-laws, restricting commercial intrusion into public park land. That wording should have been included in the 2002 park zoning bylaw after council attempted to allow a second hotel to be constructed on Okanagan Lake public park land.