Farmers lead a convoy to City Hall to 'protect the Bench'

Farmers protest at city hall

Casey Richardson

Farmers took their fight to city hall on tractors Tuesday, showing up to speak against the 320-plus unit development in the hills above Penticton's Naramata Bench. Concerns about the development focused on the impact for grape growers, local farmers and the Bench's rural aesthetic

The group gathered in front and waited for city councillors and the Mayor to hear out their cause.

“We just wanted to send a clear message to everybody here at city hall, that we don’t like this project. Do you think you got that message?” organizer John Bilodeau asked the mayor, who replied "absolutely." 

The protest brought out about 100 people, with farmers carrying signs asking to ‘save the bench’ and ‘leave it as is.’

Local resident Josie Tyabji, who started the petition in opposition to the project three months ago, spoke about what the development would do to Penticton's "brand." 

“To all the citizens of Penticton, take the time to reflect about what they appreciate about Penticton today and what is important to have the right developments in the right places to protect the farming character of our farming neighbourhoods,” Tyabji said. “ We should be directing developers in our vision, not having developers telling us what our vision is.”

David Kozier, a grape grower, spoke on the environmental changes the homes would bring to the area.

“If it were up to me, it would be turned into farmland and grapes would be growing there...Potentially large lot residential,” Kozier said. “I think that the density of what they’ve proposed is not appropriate for the area.”

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

Nathan Hildebrand, the vice president for Canadian Horizons, was out of town for the protest, but spoke to Castanet on Tuesday, outlining how the company has heard the concerns, but says feedback was “fairly even in respect to positive and negative" comments. 

He doesn’t agree that the current zoning for the area, which is country residential, will work. 

“We don’t feel that form of housing is what is needed for the City of Penticton. What is needed is affordable family housing,” Hildebrand said. “We understand that there’s concerns with what we’re proposing."

Hildebrand went on to outline the benefits to the community with a larger scale development, including improvements to Naramata Road, new park spaces, over six kilometres of new bike and walking trails, the extension of fire and water services, and significant tax revenue for the city.

But many protesters claim that Canadian Horizon doesn't have the community’s best interests at heart. 

“I completely disagree with what he says about economic development, that economic development can be made elsewhere. It’s not like if you don’t build these homes, they won’t be built,” Kozier said.“There are other areas in Penticton with the infrastructure already ready to build, where this has no infrastructure.” 

“We’re open to meet with whoever, whenever, anyone that has concerns about the proposal,” Hildebrand said, commending the farmers for heading down to city hall and taking time to speak about it. 

Canadian Horizon’s will be presenting to the council later this fall.

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