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Penticton  

Banks Cres. saga at climax

The community-wide debate around a controversial seniors development in Summerland will climax Monday during a public hearing on the project.

Both sides of the debate — the developer and opposition group — have been organizing and urging their supporters to turn out to one of two sessions in the Arena Banquet Room between 1:30 and 4:30 p.m., and 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.

“We’ve tried to knock on every door in the community, but that doesn’t mean you reach everybody,” Lark Group senior vice president Kirk Fisher said.

The company's bid to build a 424-unit seniors housing complex in the Bristow Valley in close proximity to the Summerland Trout Hatchery’s natural water source — Shaughnessy Springs — has given birth to an organized opposition group calling themselves “Summerlanders for Sensible Development.”

“I’ve been scratching my head, about what the actual benefits are of this huge development,” group member Aart Dronkers said. “Other than the dollars, we don’t think there are benefits.”

The financial impact for the municipality would be significant, generating tax revenue equivalent to a 5.7 per cent property tax increase and $2.9M in development fees that could fund parks and infrastructure.

THE LOCATION

Dronkers acknowledges the payday would be large, but maintains the project is simply too big, and in the wrong spot.

“People move here because it's a small town,” he said. “Part of the political decision makers in Summerland do not seem concerned with the ambience.”

But Fisher says the massive size of the project, which would increase Summerland’s population by 1,000, is what exactly will make it “a transformative, great, age-in-place community.”

He says the development will allow people from market housing, assisted living and memory care to mix and maintain social connections as they age.

He added that most of the amenities included in the development — like a pool, pickleball courts, and ampitheatre — are not financially feasible with a smaller project.

Fisher also dismissed questions that the project would be built on unstable ground.

"I wouldn’t build a project that was unstable, I’m a civil engineer,” he said. “Of course we are not building on any red-line area.”

But Dronkers, who is a retired structural geologist himself, disputes that the district should trust the Lark engineers.

“Lark can tell me what they want, but you go to any one of these bluffs, you stick your hand in there, and you can be lucky if you get one piece that’s not falling apart right away.”

He called the engineering reports “narrow in focus and one dimensional."

In addition to the perceived geohazards, the opposition has argued the location is too far from the downtown for seniors that do not drive.

Fisher believes that very point will bring people out to the public hearing in support of the project.

“People are being told ‘you don’t get a choice about where you live, you have to go live downtown. You are too old to get into the town to have a coffee, so you need to live downtown.’”

“I believe people are going to come… for the freedom of having the opportunity of choosing where they want to live,” Fisher added.

THE SUMMERLAND TROUT HATCHERY 

Undoubtedly, the development's largest stumbling block has been the Summerland Trout Hatchery, which has maintained opposition to the plan since early on.

“It comes down to protecting the water, and protecting the hatchery,” manager Kyle Girgan said. “We’ve been presented with nothing but concepts and ideas, and we require a lot more detail and specifics to feel safe.”

The Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC and Lark Group have not been in direct talks since April, when the hatchery walked away from the table, accusing the developer of misrepresenting their statements.

The developer appears to be equally frustrated with the hatchery, which has been demanding a contingency water source before construction starts.

A deep-water Okanagan lake intake was originally discussed, but plans never progressed. Girgan raised concerns about pathogens in the water from Okanagan Lake, and how the intake would work with the hatchery’s infrastructure.

“So we stopped that process, because they said it would not work for them. They thought, which is fair, that stopping that process would then kill the project,” Fisher said.

Girgan maintains they never declined the alternative water source, but simply spoke to the desire to preserve Shaughnessy Springs.

“In a perfect world, if there was no possible development, we wouldn’t need an alternative water source, but with the lack of specifics and details regarding our water and our hatchery, that seems to be the only option that we have in order to feel perfectly safe.”

As it stands, the plan does not include a contingency water source, instead relying on increased monitoring of the spring. Fisher said if a turbidity alarm sounds, they will stop work and alter construction to lower turbidity.

Summerland council has said repeatedly the Bank Crescent development will not move ahead if the hatchery’s concerns are not met. At this point, Girgan isn’t sure if that promise will be fulfilled.

“I honestly don’t know. I don’t really know what the council as a group is thinking,” he said.“It’s been a long process. I’m personally disappointed at this stage of where we are at, considering the length of time this has gone on.”

The development was first presented to the public in Dec. 2016.

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