Proposed 320-unit development has Naramata neighbours angry

Anger over development

Plans for a 320-plus unit development in the hills above Penticton's Naramata Bench are ruffling some feathers among residents concerned it will drastically change and irreversibly damage the community and its economy. 

Canadian Horizons, the Vancouver-based company behind Sendero Canyon, posted informational signage and created a public consultation website this spring, sharing detailed plans for its development at 1050 Spiller Road. 

The website explains that the 49-hectare plot is proposed to hold "approximately 324 single and multi-residential housing units, and will be complemented by a neighbourhood park, community park and a look-out park which will all be connected by a trail system," with 32.5 per cent of the property set aside for "environmental/conservation purposes."

For nearby residents and vineyard owners John Bilodeau and his wife Gjoa Taylor, the plans felt like like a punch to the gut. 

"We were shocked. We were just shocked at how big this suburban development was going to be out in the country," Bilodeau said. 

"So my wife and I sent out an email to a bunch of our friends and neighbours and it kind of snowballed from there with a lot of grassroots people, just us disorganized bunch of neighbours and concerned citizens saying 'What the — ?'" 

Bilodeau has concerns about the wildlife that use that area including elk, bears, cougars and owls, and as a farmer, worries that a large development will lead to water supply issues. He also worries about the environmental impact of adding many more cars to the area. 

"This is farmland and wilderness. And there's not much of it left," he said. 

"This is a satellite community. Every single person, the only way you can go anywhere, to get a litre of milk, go to school, go to work, go anywhere, you drive."

Jeff Martin, owner of La Frenz Winery just down the road from the proposed development, echoed those concerns. 

"The idea of 300 houses with two cars per house, that's 600 cars, coming back and forth twice a day morning and evening is 1,200 cars going past my door," Martin said.

"The traffic that we have now is manageable but it's still high. I'm not opposed to development above the Naramata Bench but I really think that from an economic perspective it would be completely stupid to change what's here now and change the capacity of Naramata Road."

La Frenz Winery has been on the bench for over two decades, and Martin says the success of the bench as an international tourism destination is in jeopardy. He points to wine regions in Europe and Napa Valley in California as examples of how Naramata Bench should move forward. 

"These vineyard areas are so unique and need to be maintained, and the very essence of their regions need to be maintained," Martin said. 

"It's absolutely short-sighted of the developers going to make a few bucks at the long term cost of the whole community, if not Canada, if not the world as a destination." 

Blake Laven, City of Penticton director of development services, said his department began receiving a deluge of questions and comments when Canadian Horizons started its public consultation period.

"The lands are zoned Country Residential but are designed for urban development by the city's Official Community Plan," Laven explained, adding that the company's plans generally conform to the OCP.

"A zoning amendment application has been submitted to our planning department. We are still working through a number of technical items."

Laven anticipates the development will be introduced to council for consideration likely in August.

Brad Elenko, project planner representing Canadian Horizons, said they are currently evaluating responses from the public survey, which has included many voicing concerns.

"It is a little bit disheartening, to be honest," Elenko said. He pointed to the Spiller Reservoir area concept plan adopted by council in 2014 after public consultation and the OCP adoption in 2019 as examples of times when the public were asked to weigh in. 

"So the development that's being planned is consistent with what the community has said," Elenko said. "And at this point there seems to be some concern about the development at a pretty basic level and you're kinda wondering, where were all these people when the planning was going on?"

That said, Elenko acknowledged the current public feedback, and said the plan is to sift through the responses, make some modifications and do a second round of public engagement before presenting their pitch to council. 

"Whether it's that same level of public engagement or whether we simply get back to to the folks that had the concerns and have some one-on-one with these folks in a socially distanced way, we're not sure how that's going to look yet. But that's the goal," Elenko said.

"The public has given us their opinion and we're going to do our best to understand what the concerns are and we're going to try our best to address those."

For Bilodeau, high-density development in any form on that acreage is the "tip of the iceberg," setting a precedent for more developers to buy up land and move in. 

"We've worked hard to make this a world-class tourist destination. Nobody wants to come here and see suburbs."

More Penticton News