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Lake Country says yes

A record breaking turnout of 4,462 voters, 47.9% of eligible electors, came out to have their say in the Okanagan Rail Corridor Referendum.  The unofficial results of the referendum are successful with 3,336 votes indicating approval of the Okanagan Rail Corridor borrowing bylaw.

“The turnout for the referendum was outstanding and we are very pleased that residents in the community share our vision of the Okanagan Rail Corridor connecting communities and services of the valley,” said Mayor Baker.

“Designs, public consultation and operating models will be evaluated for developing the corridor, but it may be a year or more before the route is developed and the corridor is open to the public,” said Michael Mercer, Director of Engineering and Environmental Services. “We’d remind residents that while the corridor may be acquired as District-owned land it is currently not open for public use.”

The declaration of official results will be made on Monday at 4 p.m. at the Municipal Hall and a special council meeting will be held at 5 p.m. in the council chambers to adopt the Loan Authorization Bylaw.

The referendum asked Lake Country voters to approve borrowing of up to $2.6 million for purchase of half of the 16 kilometres of abandoned CN Rail corridor which runs through the municipality.

The affirmative outcome means the average homeowner in Lake Country will see and additional $27 added to their tax bill.

The City of Kelowna is lending Lake Country the other $2.5 million.

The referendum was made necessary after more than 10 per cent of eligible Lake Country voters said no during a special alternative approval process earlier this year.

The Lake Country vote was one of the final financial hurdles standing in the way of purchase of the nearly 50 kilometre track from Kelowna to Coldstream.

Kelowna, lake Country and the Regional District of North Okanagan will pay about two-thirds of the final sale price of $22 million with the province kicking in the remaining $7.2 million.

CN Rail will also receive a charitable donation receipt from the City of Kelowna.

The final results had Lake Country voters approving the borrow initiative 3,336 votes (74.76%) to 1,117 (25.03%).


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3 options for council prayer

Kelowna city council will be given three options as it tries to determine how to handle a Supreme Court of Canada ruling on prayer in council chambers.

In its decision earlier this month, the Supreme Court unanimously concluded the state must maintain a strict neutrality in religious matters and can neither favour nor hinder any particular belief, including non-belief.

Reciting a prayer at or before a council meeting is now considered a breach of that neutrality according to the decision.

Prayer prior to a city council meeting in Kelowna began in January of 1956 following the election of Mayor James Ladd. It was stopped in 1994 and reinstated in 2000.

A prayer is recited by a councillor prior to the Tuesday evening agenda. Councillors can choose from 26 existing prayers or recite one of their choosing.

Despite its long standing tradition, the Supreme Court decision determined historical tradition was not a valid reason to continue the practice.

Council asked staff to bring back information and options for consideration.

These include:

  1. Suspend the recital of a prayer at Tuesday evening regular meetings. This option would ensure Council is compliant with the SCC decision.
  2. Continue with the recital of a prayer at Tuesday evening regular meetings. Note non-denominational prayers were still considered by the SCC to be religious in nature. Council would be continuing with a practice the SCC has determined is contrary to law. The City would be open to legal challenge. A challenge could be made at either the Supreme Court of BC, or to the BC Human Rights Tribunal. Multiple challenges could be made to either or both bodies, although there is some question whether such a complaint would fall under the BC Human Rights Tribunal’s jurisdiction.
  3. Replace the prayer with a moment of personal silent reflection at Tuesday evening regular meetings. This option provides for individual silent prayer to any deity or deities of a person's choice, while also providing an opportunity for others to reflect in any secular manner as they see fit.

Council will review the options at its Monday morning meeting.

Heritage on hold

The restoration of Cameron House is expected to be put on hold while the exact scope of that restoration is determined.

Cameron House was originally built in 1928 at 2345 Richter Street. The surrounding parkland was donated to the city in 1968 while the building itself was purchased for $70,000 in 1976.

It is part of the municipal and national heritage register as a rare example of log construction in Kelowna and its historical value.

It was home to the Waldorf Preschool from 1982 until it was closed in 2012 due to safety concerns. It is currently vacant and boarded up.

The house became a tipping point for a more comprehensive review of city owned heritage buildings throughout the city during budget talks earlier this year.

Council debated the merits of adding $200,000 to the budget for renovations to the house. That was on top of $300,000 already set aside in previous years. While it kept the money in the budget, council asked that a report on necessary repairs and renovations be provided before a final budget decision was reached.

A staff report prepared for council suggests the $200,000 request be removed from the 2015 budget with the provision to submit an updated capital request for the 2016 budget.

In his report Parks and Buildings Planning Manager Terry Barton suggests with appropriate renovations and restoration the building could attract positive use from a tenant.

While architectural and engineering assessments still need to be completed, Barton indicates several areas of restoration work, including:

  • Reinstate the structural integrity of the building to meet life safety and BC Building Code objectives including foundations, main floor and work on the second floor fire escape
  • Exterior log wall repairs
  • Repair and reinstatement of the remaining exterior envelope
  • Upgrades of the electrical, heating, fire alarms and plumbing systems to meet code requirements
  • Interior alterations and functional improvements to suit a future tenant

Cost of the necessary repairs to Cameron House, which is insured for $510,000, have not been determined however, Barton does not believe those costs will rise past the million dollar mark.

"Since the house is boarded up and not threatened from further deterioration the city has time to ensure the best possible solution is made," concluded Barton.

"Staff recommend taking the next few months to work through in greater detail the opportunities and constraints of the various options to ensure due diligence is carried out before selecting a future use for the building. The time will also provide the opportunity for engineering and architectural assessments to be completed.

Barton said the additional time would also allow staff the opportunity to follow up with senior levels of government regarding potential funding or grant opportunities.

The building is insured for $510,000.

Opening the doors of trade

Councillor Mohini Singh is set to meet with the B.C. Fruit Growers Association on Monday to talk about trade opportunities with India.

Last Thursday, Singh had the opportunity to meet the the Prime Minster of India and his delegation, and while she hoped to speak with them about opening trade relations between their country and Kelowna it was not so.

However, the City Councillor did speak with Premier Christy Clark who Singh says was excited about the opportunity of exporting Kelowna fruit products to India.

“Before anything happens I have to speak with all of the local people, so I am meeting with the BCFGA because first we must meet as a commodity group to see if this is at all possible.”

Singh has placed calls to MP Ron Cannan to go over the tariff situation with India, before she delves further into the trade relations.

“On Monday, I just want to find out what the next step should be and see what the BCFGA feels. They have been very enthusiastic they really feel there is an opportunity here,” she says.

“We want this to happen, but there needs to be a buyer and there needs to be a seller and it needs to be financially feasible.”

The hope, for Singh, is once the door opens to the fruit trade other relationships can be built such as expanding the wine and technology industry the Okanagan has to offer.

Rail vote: pick your side

Lake Country voters have one last chance to make their feelings known on the proposed purchase of the defunct CN Rail corridor.

Voters are being asked to determine whether they wish to allow the municipality to borrow up to $2.6 million to buy half the 16-kilometre corridor running through the community. A yes vote would mean taxes for the average property owner would rise by about $27 a year.

Interest in the process has been high, with more than 2,800 votes already being cast. That makes this the largest turnout for any vote ever held in the municipality.

It has also evoked strong feelings from both sides of the debate. No less than six organizations or individuals have registered with Elections BC as advertising sponsors, four on the yes side and two on the no side.

Proponents of the purchase point to this being a once in a lifetime opportunity to preserve "priceless parkland" and an opportunity to capitalize on rail trail tourism.

Those on the no side counter with a need to spend money on more pressing infrastructure needs and a desire to know the true cost beyond just the purchase price.

The Lake Country Rail Trail Action Team recently produced Five Reasons to Vote Yes. They include:

  • Priceless Parkland - The 16-kilometre stretch of rail corridor within Lake Country boundaries includes 105 acres of parkland with seven kilometres of waterfront property
  • Rail Trail Tourism - Rail trail industry experts predict the number of Okanagan rail Trail users will grow to about 125,000 a year by 2015 with annual spending of about $7.5 million.
  • Health and Prosperity - The rail trail will enable and encourage a variety of healthy outdoor activities year-round for people of all ages and abilities.
  • Green Transportation - The rail trail will enable safe and accessible commuting for cyclists from all communities along the route for much of the year.
  • Community Identity - The rail trail, and the social, cultural, environmental and economic benefits it provides, will greatly enhance the lure of Lake Country for residents and visitors alike.

Team chair Duane Thomson claims research has shown communities from around the world with rail trails benefit in a variety of ways from social and cultural vitality and environmental resilience to economic prosperity.

He encourages residents not to be "fooled" by any misinformation they may have encountered.

Guy Bissonette with Taxpayers 4 Responsible Tax counters that, while he agrees the rail trail would be a great luxury for the community to have, the municipality simply can't afford it.

Bissonette claims it will take about $30 million (district figures) just to upgrade roads in the municipality. He said to do just that would require a tax increase of $300 for the average taxpayer over the next 20 years.

"Kelowna can afford to go ahead and repave roads and do those sorts of repairs – and they can buy a rail trail –because they've got cash. Where here, we are we can't afford to do any of our road repairs and our mayor wants to borrow money to buy a rail trail. That's it in a nutshell."

Bissonette said it's nice that other cities like New York have a large trail network, but points out they are not small municipalities with a tax base of 12,000.

"Plus we're going to get hit, I think in 2018, when they want a new fire hall. They are going to want to have a referendum to borrow money for that," added Bissonette.

"I would be all in favour of that because it's public safety, as are roads."

Bissonette said he is optimistic the No side can prevail in this referendum.

While the Yes side has run a loud and vocal campaign, he believes the No side represents the silent majority.

He said an open house at the high school that garnered about 150 people and a rally that drew about 300 are, to him, low turnouts.

Voters in Lake Country will have the final say.

Polls open Saturday at 8 a.m. and will remain open until 8 p.m. at George Elliot Secondary School.

Results are expected sometime after 10 p.m. tomorrow night.

Surgical centre gets keys

Plenary Health presented Interior Health with an oversized ceremonial key Friday, to signify handover of the first three floors of the new Interior Heart and Surgical Centre.

The event marked the completion of construction of floors one through three, which are set to open to patients on Sept. 28.

“Today is an exciting day, because the Interior of B.C. and Kelowna, after many years of lobbying and planning and constructing, with an investment of $381 million in provincial and local tax dollars, we are celebrating the construction, completion and handover of the the first three floors of B.C.'s newest heart and surgical centre to the Interior Health Authority,” said Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick.

The new facility is 152,000 square feet in size and includes a state-of-the-art surgical unit with capacity for 15 operating rooms (including two cardiac operating rooms and a hybrid operating room), 45 private pre-operative patient rooms, a new and expanded medical device reprocessing (sterilization) department and a new perinatal unit including its own operating room for elective C-sections.

“It is a great day for British Columbia and a great day for the people right here in the Central Okanagan,” said Letnick.

“The benefit to families is huge. The fact that their loved ones, in many cases, will no longer have to be transported to the coast means families can be closer to their loved ones in the Central Okanagan while they receive care.”

Plenary Health was selected by Interior Health in 2012 to design, build, finance and maintain the new centre. It is a consortium that includes the Plenary Group, PCL Constructors Westcoast Inc., Johnson Controls LP, HOK Architects and CEI Architecture Planning Interiors.

“This milestone marks an important step in the long-term partnership between Interior Health and Plenary Health,” said Plenary CEO Mike Marasco.

“It is the end of the first phase of construction, and the beginning of a 30-year journey together, in which this community will receive local access to health care in a state-of-the-art, well-maintained facility, among the best in North America.”

A key element of the partnership between Interior Health and Plenary Health is the maintenance of the centre. Through Johnson Controls, Plenary Health will provide facility maintenance service of the IHSC from now until 2045.

“We now turn our attention to the important task of maintaining and operating this facility over the next three decades, to ensure it remains a sound and sturdy cornerstone of this community for generations to come,” added Michael Mitchell, Director - P3 Infrastructure Operations, Johnson Controls LP.

With the keys to the building in hand, upwards of 700 Interior Health employees, physicians and volunteers will now start going through building orientation and training. New equipment, computers and furniture will also be installed over the coming months.

“On behalf of Interior Health, I congratulate all of our partners at Plenary Health on delivering this beautiful, modern building,” added Erwin Malzer, Interior Health board chair. “When we open the doors of this fantastic facility in September, we know that our patients and their families will immediately see that this is one of the best places to receive care in B.C.”

Civic block workshop

The City of Kelowna wants your input into potential changes to the city's civic block.

A community workshop planned for May 13 is one of several activities that will enable residents to participate in creation of a land-use plan for the downtown area.

Building on the momentum of enhanced public amenities downtown, the plan will identify land uses that "enrich the community, encourage economic development and add to the vibrancy of the Cultural District," the city says.

Within the civic block are buildings such as Memorial Arena and Community Theatre, which are at or near the end of their life cycle.

As well, the RCMP detachment on Doyle Avenue and Interior Health facility on Ellis Street will both become vacant in the coming few years.

In this first workshop, participants will help identify issues and create design principles for development in the area. A second workshop is tentatively planned for late June, when attendees will be invited to provide feedback on draft concepts.

Participation is limited to 40 attendees.

Click here if you are interested in taking part. A draw will be held on May 5 to fill available spots with registered members of the community.

Additional online engagement activities and an open house are also planned to ensure the public has the opportunity to review the plans.

For more information, email Ross Soward at [email protected]

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