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Writer-s-Bloc

Bullied in Summerland

I feel bullied.

There, I’ve said it.

I feel bullied as I walk around Summerland and get involved in timely and topical discussions because I favour the Banks Crescent condominium development proposal.

This is a problem because it restrains free and thoughtful discussions. And it’s a problem because the vocal minority in Summerland, those opposed to the Banks Crescent development, have intimidated many people to the point where they steer clear of any discussions surrounding it.

That then clears the way for the people opposed to the proposal to win the day, despite a quiet majority of voters who believe it just isn’t worth the fight.

But there’s one important reason why we should speak up. Taxes.

None of us likes to pay more than we need to in taxes. The Banks Crescent development has great potential to ease the pressure on the city’s available funds, and therefore the future tax burden on every citizen.

The expected injection of tax money, worth about $450,000, is nothing to sneeze at.

There’s other money too, in development charges, jobs and a non-profit care provider to manage the project that has said it would donate 10 per cent of its proceeds to local projects.

And what do we, as residents have to give up in exchange? Well, if you stop and think about it, not too much at all.

For those who don’t know, a 404-unit condominium proposal by the Lark Group is planned for the Bristow Valley, just above the Summerland Trout Hatchery, where a small orchard now operates.

But the way some opponents present it, you’d think Lark and city council have proposed opening up the pits of hell.

It’s time to stop the over-the-top rhetoric. We all need to calm down and take time to think honestly about what the proposed development will mean to our lives.

For the most part, we’re talking about a slightly less attractive view of the lake, although the marina and the water would will remain visible for most people. It will also mean a few extra cars each week, probably not even enough to notice unless you’re standing outside with clicker, tabulating each as it passes.

I’ve recently read in the newspaper about one woman who was so distraught about the development that she was physically sick and couldn’t sleep.

This is the sad truth about where inflammatory comments intended to elicit fear lead.

None of us wants to see this happening in our community.

By any measure, the Banks Crescent development will not impact anybody’s life in any significant manner.

Admittedly, the development will pose a small inconvenience, especially during construction, but the water will still be blue, the wind will still brace your face when you step out onto the deck in the morning, and the birds will still come around for the seeds and nuts.

Critics of the project like to say that developments like this belong near downtown. Sure, it could work very well downtown, but that doesn’t prohibit it from going ahead down by the lake either.

A developer knows the value of being able to market condos that possess a lake view and those located closer to the lake, than units located downtown.

The downside of being located closer to the lake means that those who buy the new condos won’t likely be able to walk up to the main part of downtown, but I don’t see that as an issue.

I am not sure of how many residents that now live down on the slope in front of the lake ever walk to downtown, or why they think it necessary that others would need that convenience that they don’t enjoy themselves.

Here’s a news flash: Ninety per cent of all retirement condos ever built in the history of condo building are not positioned close enough to their community’s main shopping core to allow the retirees to walk to the amenities. That’s why we have taxis, and minivans and shuttle busses.

Besides, it’s actually not up to us to make that decision. It's up to would-be buyers to decide where they choose to live.

In the interest of cutting through the noise, let’s outline the real issues:

No. 1: It is not a high-risk building plan that will slide down off the slopes into the lake as opponents claim. If you think that, then you have never visited Vancouver, San Francisco or Kelowna. Engineers do this all the time. If properly planned, regulated and inspected, the Banks Crescent development ought to be easy, peasy.

No. 2: Congested traffic isn’t going to happen to any great degree. Let’s face it, we’re not living in a huge metropolitan area with traffic jams and a maze of bridges to cross while we fight off thousands of other commuters. People who live in the area might see an extra few vehicles each day, but certainly not enough to warrant pulling the plug on the whole development.

No. 3: Solly Road can actually handle the cars and pedestrian traffic quite well, thank you. I’ll admit the route needs sidewalks or at least marked off walking lanes along the sides of the road. Hey, let’s negotiate that into a condition of approval.

No. 4: The Summerland Fish Hatchery wants protection for its groundwater source during the construction phase. (It’s going to be fine when the buildings are complete.) I do see this as a legitimate beef. But surely it can’t be that hard to accomplish.

As I see it, the hatchery can continue to use the underground spring it uses now and it will also have a contingency source drawn from Okanagan Lake paid for by the developer, which it never had before. It sounds like win-win to me.

There are more tests to carry out to make sure water drawn from Okanagan Lake doesn’t carry a virus into the hatchery’s fingerlings and to ensure water temperatures are correct, but surely that can’t be a project killer? Surely, there exists somewhere in this universe a work-around solution in which both can co-exist.

Or does the hatchery have a principle it is fighting to preserve? It has become a key rallying cry for opponents of the Banks Crescent project, so if the hatchery has unvoiced philosophical opposition to the condo development, in addition to its technical issues, then it owes it to the citizens of Summerland to be as transparent about its reasons as possible.

For now, everybody owes it to the hatchery’s leadership team to take them at their word.

No. 5. Not In My Backyard, NIMBY. I actually see this a legitimate complaint. If I lived somewhere near the slopes where the condo development is planned, I might be feeling a little downcast too. I can understand the preference to being able to sit on a deck that overlooks an orchard to one with a view of a condo. But unless we can afford to buy all the land surrounding our homes to protect our views from future developments, we don’t get to decide. It is out of our hands. That is an unfortunate reality to life in any community.

No.6. We can’t forever cling to the sleepy, little town mentality, even though we all love it and that is what attracted so many of us to live here. We need balance and we need to find ways to prosper without losing the core of what this community is about.

The Banks Crescent development is likely the best chance that will come our way for some time.

Terry Fries is a Summerland-based journalist, and communications consultant. He can be reached at [email protected]

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