Council approves Skaha Lake Park redevelopment by 5-2 vote

55922c9285192.imageA planned transformation of Skaha Lake Park has received the blessing of local politicians.

Penticton city council on Monday agreed to a deal with Trio Management that will see an expanded marina and restaurant  in 2016. Water slides and mini-golf are expected to be in place by 2018, and a cold beer and wine store is also a possibility.

It took three hours of public input followed by 35 minutes of debate at the council table to reach the decision. Of the 35 speakers who presented to council, 27 were strongly opposed, seven in favour (including one from West Kelowna and another North Vancouver) while one appeared neutral.

The vast consensus was support for expanded marina operations and acceptance of a restaurant, but strong opposition to leasing public parkland for an amusement area.

Trio spokesman Tom Dyas said the $2.2-million project has been met with keen enthusiasm from the vast majority of Penticton residents he and his partners have spoken with. He said it’s a much-needed attraction to bring young families to the area and will prove a popular destination with young kids and teens.

Lila Parsons, a 37-year resident of Penticton, supported the idea, but suggested locating it on the Penticton Indian Reserve, which will soon have additional access from Green Avenue.

“They’re open for business,” Parsons said.

Regional district director Tim Siddon, who represents Kaleden and Okanagan Falls, expressed concerns on issues including quality of drinking water, sockeye salmon and agreements with the PIB.

“We all drink water that comes from that lake,” Siddon said in reference to neighbouring communities. “There are 100,000 sockeye salmon thanks to Okanagan Nation and the Penticton Indian Band. How will they be affected. I’m not sure Chief (Jonathan) Kruger was ever told. They need to do an environmental impact study.”

Retired research scientist Harvey Quamme presented council with a petition with 428 names. Dyas interjected that at least 100 were from out-of-town.

Former mayor Jake Kimberley said Skaha Lake Park is what it is today because of service clubs raising money for things such as a kids’ splash pad.

Making reference to a rainstorm earlier in the day, Kimberley said, “It was the sound of former mayors of this city who purchased millions of dollars in property to expand, to make enough parkland for future generations to enjoy. Don’t take it away.”

Acting city manager Mitch Moroziuk said that according to the deal with Trio, the splash pad as well as other existing amenities must be relocated at the developer’s expense. When pressed, Moroziuk said no special considerations are being given to the group.

Realtor Gary Denton, a former city councillor, noted Stanley Park in Vancouver has been a prime target of developers since 1886. He asked what Stanley Park would be today if private businesses were permitted there.

“What would the reaction be from the people of Vancouver?” said Denton.

Some speakers drew comparisons with the ill-fated Eckhardt Avenue hockey dormitory project, while others lent support.

Diana Stirling, speaking on behalf of Tourism Penticton, and Jennifer Taylor, for the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce, both gave the project glowing endorsements.

Councillors had a series of questions for the developers.

Tarik Sayeed asked about the length of the lease and Campbell Watt about whether there was ever an environmental study conducted. Andre Martin inquired about parking and Helena Konanz as to how much green space would be lost.

Sayeed suggested a clause for the developer to offer a 50 per cent discount to low-income children and Konanz wanted money from the lease to go exclusively to replacing green space.

Neither suggestion found a seconder.

Moroziuk said there’s a detailed list of protections for the City in the contract, which can be read online.

In the end, Council voted 5-2 in favour of advancing the project to the next level with Sayeed and Mayor Andrew Jakubeit opposed.

Jakubeit said he supports the water slide concept but “wouldn’t mind a little bit of extra time” to consider other options.

Martin suggested the time had come to let Trio get to work.

“In business, you need certainty and we should give them our blessing today so they can get the ball rolling and so get their finances going,” he said.