Another former Penticton mayor has come out publicly against a “pie in the sky” plan to allow developers to build water slides in Skaha Lake Park.
Garry Litke attended Tuesday night’s rally in front of City Hall and said in an interview afterwards that when his council opened negotiations with Trio Marine Group in 2013 their talks focused mainly on the first two phases of redevelopment: an upgraded Skaha Lake Marina and new restaurant.
“The third phase was pie in the sky, maybe if everything goes well we could entertain something like a water slide somewhere, maybe on the parking lot,” said Litke, who served as mayor from September 2013 to November 2014 before deciding not to seek re-election.
“Certainly nobody ever talked about getting rid of the splash park, nobody ever talked about taking out trees. Nobody ever mentioned anything about that.”
Five speakers and several hundred people at the rally, including Litke, once again called on council to put the issue to a referendum.
Also a 2 1/2-term councillor, Litke said the current situation is untenable, noting he never before saw a mayor use a gavel to try to bring a council meeting to order or police called in to restore calm, as happened following a larger rally July 20.
“It’s gone right out of control. This is crazy,” he said.
“It just shows there is a disconnect between the council and the population. There’s no communication going on, council is not listening to the people. And the number of people is only going to get bigger until somebody pays attention.”
Litke said the issue of whether council is legally required to put Trio’s 29-year lease to a referendum is a “grey area” since it does not involve outright sale of land, but he feels people should be given a say nonetheless.
“We could get into a big legal battle and have lawyers on both sides fighting about what does disposition mean – that will cost way more than $30,000 – or we can go to referendum and settle it,” he said.
Other former mayors in attendance Tuesday included David Perry, Jake Kimberley,plus ex-councillor John Vassilaki, all of whom have made public their opposition to plans for the park.
Kimberley told the crowd he believes an argument could be made that a long-term lease makes a portion of the park off-limits to all but paying customers, so it constitutes disposition of land and thereby requires voters’ approval.
Gary Denton, a former Penticton city councillor, also stepped up to the microphone and told protesters there are three ways a referendum may come about now: if council relents and puts one on, if the B.C. Office of the Inspector of Municipalities mandates it, or if a lawyer convinces a judge to make it so.
He later polled the crowd to see if anyone was in favour of the water slides as proposed, but no one appeared to yell or put up their hands before protesters began shouting, “No!”
Cliff Martin, who organized the first rally and is involved with the Concerned Penticton Residents Association, said afterwards he’s unsure if another protest will be planned, but encouraged people to attend the Aug. 17 council meeting, for which the group is trying to get on the agenda to appear as a delegation.
Council voted last week to stay the course with Trio Marine Group, which plans to overhaul the existing Skaha Lake Marina with new slips and equipment, plus a restaurant, before putting up the water slides in 2017.
The deal will see the city receive a cut of revenue from the various business streams, as well as market lease rates for the land.