Three eyeing OK Falls seat

With more than 250 new jobs on the way in the OK Falls industrial park, the housing market in the area is among the key topics for all three candidates eyeing the vacant Area D director seat in the municipal election.

One of B.C.'s largest cannabis production facilities will be built, while a new mill is opening its doors later this month. One senior staff member with Structurlam, which already has a 105,000-square-foot facility in OK Falls, said nearly all the mill's employees commute from Penticton, Summerland or Oliver.

Voters in OK Falls, Skaha Estates and Heritage Hills will choose between former area director Bill Schwarz, semi-retired chartered accountant Rodney Penway and longtime lawyer Ron Obirek.

Tom Siddon has been the area director since 2011, and announced earlier this year he isn't seeking re-election

Apart from Siddon, Schwarz is the only other person to have served as the Area D director in the past 16 years, having been the director for three terms from 2002 and 2011.

Schwarz said the community needs to attract affordable housing projects, "where a normal working person can afford to buy a house and pay the grocery bill."

He said he also plans to scrutinize finances, saying increases in property and sewer taxes need to be addressed. "I believe there are savings available in property tax, savings in the budget... I'm going to do everything in my power to bring taxes back in line." 

Penway, an OK Falls resident of seven years, has a lengthy background in finances and "civic endeavours," and said he has some municipal experience, having served as a councillor in the District of Houston in the past, in northern B.C.

He said the rental market has "kind of capped out" in OK Falls, and said the community "has become, to a large extent, the bedroom community for Penticton."

"There's a lot of people commuting and buying fairly expensive houses. And I think we're seeing a large concentration now of expensive houses... We're going to want to be looking at more affordable housing," Penway said.

He added his familiarity with budgets makes him an asset as well, and said there could be a more "common outlook" at the regional district board table about managing regional assets, such as the KVR Trail.

Obirek, a lawyer for more than three decades, has lived in OK Falls for more than nine years, and said he's been involved with community in many ways including serving on the OK Falls Parks and Recreation Committee.

"Area D is really where everything's happening. It's got the most items on the [RDOS] agenda, the most controversy, the most interesting things," Obirek said, citing projects like the cannabis production plant, a new senior's housing complex and recent updates to the OK Falls Town Centre Plan.

He said OK Falls is at an advantage to deal with housing, pointing out jobs in the industrial park and saying that the community is affordable compared to places like Kelowna or Penticton.

Among his priorities are highway safety and improving crosswalks for pedestrians. He also voiced concerns to deal with the pesky alkali astor plant that lines Christie Memorial Park, which he said currently isn't allowed to be removed and "as a result, the community has lost a core value."

The municipal election takes place on Oct. 20.

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