From a distance, Penticton’s natural setting overwhelms the built environment. Will it always be so? (Jodi Forster photo)

OPINION: The natural values are what make Penticton so attractive

Don’t let progress stand over environmental stewardship

Walking in Penticton is an eye and ear-opener.

One morning my ears detected a chirping sound. Further investigation indicated ‘just’ a flock of very common house sparrows in a small bush.

The significant moment came when I raised my eyes. Beyond the bush and low-rise motel there they were, not birds, but the beautiful hills above the West Bench.

Then I looked into the valley that leads to Apex and Nickle Plate ski areas and south to the hills above the airport.

Those blue hills and their snowy slopes felt restful and reassuring.

Not so just a block away. I heard a shriek as the teeth of an excavator bucket plunged into the roof of a house, smashing it flat in a day to make way for up to seven multi-level condos… where a week before a dozen large cedars, full of bird song, went down in preparation.

Nearby, For Sale signs had popped up on a home marked by a carefully tended vegetable garden and cozy glass-enclosed veranda. On a double lot with a vacant house next door, I knew what would happen there.

Or happen to the last of the orchards, the hills that facilitate animal movement, all that remains of existing wildlife corridors.

I know you’re going to say I’m just an old softie. Progress is progress. But is it the only way to go?

How many of us look up to those hills each day? Or turn a corner and there’s the lake? How about touchstone views to the east, Campbell Mountain, the Carmi hills and Ellis Creek Canyon? It’s wonderful they can be seen from town.

Why do I care you ask? I’m concerned for our views, green space, open areas, places for children to play and the trees that are disappearing. I’m concerned that garden and agricultural space will be at a premium.

I’m concerned that grasslands and wetlands will be lost.

I’m concerned that density is being put ahead of the environmental values that attract everything from unique birds and mammals, to the values that set the scene for tourists and agriculture.

New builds often fill the lot with minimal exterior space, the ‘yard’ a small xeriscaped rectangle of crushed rock. There’s no room for a tree larger than a Saskatoon bush.

This approach reduces water use but alas also reduces critical natural shade.

Are trees and natural hillsides an important consideration?

I felt pleased that Penticton councillor Julius Bloomfield had similar thoughts on the city council decision to deny rezoning for a high density 300-plus homes above Naramata Bench.

His comments emphasized the natural values of our valley, the things that make living and visiting here worthwhile.

The Society for the Preservation of Naramata Bench more broadly affirms the importance of “careful environmental stewardship” that in turn, supports wildlife, tourism and agriculture. Environmental stewardship is the backbone of the Save Sickle Point campaign too. Can environmental stewardship lead the next phase of valley and hillside development?

Let’s make it so.