Co-operation between governments key, North Okanagan state of the region town hall participants say

Partnership key to future

The North Okanagan has a bright future – but greater co-operation between local governments and First Nations will be key to driving the region forward.

That underlying theme came up during several topics during a "state of the region" town hall Zoom meeting on Thursday, hosted by the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce.

Participating were Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming, Coldstream Mayor Jim Garlick, Okanagan Indian Band councillors Ryan Oliverius and Rochelle Saddleman, and Regional District of North Okanagan vice-chair Amanda Shatzko.

Cumming said development is on the upswing in Vernon.

Despite the pandemic, "development in the first quarter of 2020 was very active," Cumming said. "The second quarter was slow, but we had a very active third and fourth quarter. And 2021 has been very active again."

He described the local market as "very fast moving and high demand."

Housing and affordability was a hot topic for all jurisdictions, and Cumming said despite the North Okanagan being "a great spot for people to come to," middle income earners now find it hard to afford a home, not just low-income families.

"We're seeing some of that pressure," he said, but noted Vernon will have grown its stock of supportive/subsidized housing from 300 to 700 units by 2023.

Lots of people are putting in suites to help pay for their homes, he said, and the city has just overhauled its secondary suite and carriage house policy, and is encouraging smaller house on smaller lots to alleviate some of the pressure.

In addition, it has also lowered development cost charges.

Oliverius said housing has always been an issue on the OKIB reserve.

"We have to go through CMHC funding, and it depends on what we can get each year," he said. "But we are starting to move several projects," including four-plexes and houses.

"The shortage is not just in our community, but across the province," added Saddleman.

Cumming noted 29 units are being added at Albert Place on 25th Avenue, 48 units at McCulloch Court II, 103 micro suites in Okanagan Landing, and 52 units at My Place 2

"A lot of projects right across the cost spectrum are on the way," he said.

Building the city's relationship with the OKIB is critical, he added, which was echoed by Shatzko.

"We are encouraging economic development across the region," she said. "We are all connected have to do it with our partners, as we're all dependent on each other.

"There's lots of opportunity to collaborate and work together, to open the door and build stronger relationships. Coming out of COVID, there are lots of opportunities ... farm innovation and tours, land to table. We need to come together to support each other."

In reference to the OKIB Group of Companies expanding its influence and participation in the regional economy, Garlick said "working together is really important, and we are looking into how we can expand that relationship."

Saddleman said many band members want to see more engagement on Indigenous tourism, and "we are talking to the community to see what that would look like."

The band has also seen growth on its Duck Lake reserve, with the addition of a modular home manufacturer.

In response to questions on long-range planning, Garlick said five years is generally as far ahead as any government looks.

"Five years ago, nobody thought we would have a pandemic," he said. "It's very murky looking 10 or 20 years out."

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