Concerns remain about parks and rec master plan

 Save Skaha Park Society encourages residents to have their say on draft master plan

The reasons might vary, but if there is one thing the City of Penticton and the Save Skaha Park Society might agree on, it’s the need for residents to be involved in the process of creating a parks and recreation master plan.

The second draft of the plan is available online now, and the city has set May 1 for an open house on the plan.

The society, who, along with Penticton Citizen’s First, led a successful opposition to the city leasing a portion of Skaha Lake Park for a waterslide development, continues to have concerns with the approach to parks expressed in the draft master plan.

“From what we have seen thus far, we do not feel it will not provide the guidance our city needs in planning our parks for the next 10 years and beyond,” reads the release.

“Lack of trust is a fundamental barrier to real progress in maximizing the benefit of our parks to our quality of life and our environment. It is the elephant in the room and it needs to be dealt with openly.”

The SSPS suggest the master plan, which will be a guiding document for the city rather than policy, should include an amendment to the 2002 Parks Dedication Bylaw.

According to the society, the 2002 referendum question asked voters to agree (yes or no) to accept the bylaw dedicating 12 parcels of city-owned land as public park land.

“However, the bylaw that was adopted (93 per cent approval of the electors) included a clause that reads, in part, ‘Council may from time to time lease or license all or part of the public park land’,” reads the SSPS release. “We believe that the city relied on this clause to justify leasing 20 per cent of Skaha Park for commercial development without first obtaining approval of the electors.”

The SSPS said the master plan fails to address issues directly and make firm statements.

“The report uses deliberately ambiguous language, such as ‘inappropriate development’ rather than ‘commercial development,’ and ‘preferably unencumbered’ rather than just ‘unencumbered.’ This is misleading,” according to the society.

The SSPS, like the city, is encouraging concerned residents to attend the May 1 open house at the Trade and Convention Centre. The draft plan can also be reviewed, and feedback given, online at shapeyourcitypenticton.ca. In the week since the draft plan was released, only one comment has been made in the discussion forum.

The SSPS is also concerned the draft master plan, prepared by consultants from Urban Systems, diminishes the opposition against large scale commercial developments in parks, describing the community as divided regarding amusements in parks.

Instead, the society describes the opposition to commercial developments as “overwhelming” noting “several rallies attended by hundreds; petitions with over 8,000 signatures and letters to the editor (96 per cent opposed to commercialization).”

A July 2016 telephone survey by Urban Systems showed support for small food vendors and concessions, along with small merchandise vendors.

Comments collected during the survey show that when it comes to new commercial uses in parks, 26 per cent (50) of the 193 comments opposed the idea altogether, and another 21 per cent (41) opposed waterpark or waterslide developments. At the other end of the spectrum, only 18 comments were in favour of waterslides or waterparks, and another five responded that any new commercial uses were OK.