Balancing parks and development

I had a call from a lady last week asking me why council was getting rid of park in lieu of development – what was going on? We walked through the three examples of Skaha Beach, Munson Mountain and the South Okanagan Events Centre complex. Skaha Beach was easy to talk about since council had already abandoned the notion of returning the zoning of 10 private properties on beachfront from park to some sort of residential zoning. We heard at the public hearing beach frontage should be a long-term goal and vision for the City. Since the City only owns one of the houses in the middle, we considered the probability and costs to acquire the remaining properties – and some residents spoke about how their property had been passed along from generation to generation and would never be sold to the City. The cost for the remaining lots is estimated to be over $25 million to acquire, let alone program (you'd be shocked on how expensive just putting irrigation and grass is). I'd be curious to see if those who lobbied to keep the houses on Skaha as parkland would be supportive of spending the money to acquire them. Our dilemma was, do we keep the City-owned home or should we consider selling it if obtaining the other houses is expensive and not realistic? Would the money be better leveraged developing or creating parkland elsewhere in the City?

Ten years ago, Munson Mountain was a source of conflict in the community when 30 acres was proposed to be used for a baseball sports field complex. Since that time, the City sold off two, 10-acre parcels and the remaining 10-acre parcel (directly behind the Penticton sign) has remained an empty field. There are some beautiful natural vistas and terrain that presently no one knows exists or uses, and the City is considering creating a park to house a BMX (pedal bike) track, Mountain Bike Skills Park and open green space. 

I think what we need to consider is how we can take underutilized parcels of property throughout the City and create greater community impact and benefit. The 27 acres at 325 Power St. – home to the South Okanagan Events Centre, Penticton Trade & Convention Centre, Memorial Arena, Visitor Information Centre complex and Westminster Centre – is under consideration to add “tourist accommodation” as a permitted use under zoning. The hope is hotel developers who have been considering Penticton in the past will see opportunity and come to the table with a project. Since only 30% of area has an actual building on it and most of it is pavement anyway, you would think, “Easy peasy. What's the issue?” The far corner does have a small baseball diamond on it, so relocation within the community's parks system would be very important if that were proposed.

Speaking of parkland, we really should take note that the City recently added 300 acres to park inventory with Three Blind Mice in the Riddle Road area, partnering with community groups to create a recognized destination for cycling, hiking and disc golf. Another reclaimed greenspace has been Marina Way Lookout – a new pocket park with some of the best views of Okanagan Lake you can find. We've added 3 dog parks over the last few years, greening under-utilized spaces so residents and their furry friends can enjoy the outdoors. We've also created more amenities in existing parks, with the fun and interactive Discovery Park at Skaha Lake, and we recently approved the SS Sicamous master plan that will enhance the park and public spaces around Okanagan Lake. Penticton's beaches, KVR trail system and Channel parkway are not included in our official parks inventory, yet have some of the highest usage and offer some of the best recreational value.

Council is committed to the importance and value parks bring to our neighbourhoods and the greater community. Is it possible to create development that will enhance, entice and compliment the park experience? Council is exploring that concept.

An open house will be held about the SOEC complex zoning amendment on Thursday, April 30 from 4 to 7 p.m. in Room 3 of the Penticton Community Centre. For more information, visit this page.

We look forward to your input, concerns and ideas.