Opposition to leasing public land in Skaha Lake Park isn’t going away just because Penticton city council announced they weren’t going to revisit the issue.
Cliff Martin, who already has some 1,200 signatures on a petition against the lease, said he is continuing to collect signatures, adding there is talk among the opposition of taking legal action against the city.
On June 29, at a special meeting, city council green lighted a deal with Trio Marine Group, who plan to expand the current marina, build a restaurant and eventually a water slide complex on what is now green space in Skaha Lake Park.
Martin said he wasn’t surprised when Mayor Andrew Jakubeit announced that he wouldn’t be using his mayor’s privilege to return Trio Marine’s project to the city council agenda.
“I didn’t think he was going to budge,” said Martin, who plans to have another petition-signing event on July 25 at 4 p.m., near the splash pad in Skaha Lake Park.
“I want everyone to keep on signing, because when it comes to a court case, the more signatures I have the better,” said Martin, who collected 700 signatures at a rally in front of City Hall on July 20.
Looking back in the collection at the Penticton Museum and Archives, it’s clear this is not the first time development in a park has been considered and opposed by the community. A petition from 1980 has signatures from 4,270 people who “object to the desecration of Okanagan beaches for commercial development.”
And Vancouver developer Mel Reeves once wanted to build a cabana-type development on the Skaha Lake beach as an extension to a five-star resort he planned to build on the site of the old waterslides, which closed in 2007.
The beachfront clubhouse would have been for the exclusive use of people staying at the resort, but public opposition shut that idea down even before Reeves’ project went bankrupt.
The current waterslide plan, however, has very vocal advocates on both sides.
Jason Cox, president of the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber would not be in favour of a referendum that the opponents of the development plan are requesting.
“You elect officials to make decisions. You don’t then make them take every decision out for referendum, or what is the point of having elections?” said Cox, who added the chamber’s official stance is to support the development of the Skaha Marina area, after canvassing their membership.
“This isn’t about water slides as a standalone issue. It’s a multi-million dollar upgrade to the marina,” said Cox, noting that the plan includes multiple streams of revenue, including expanding and upgrading the current marina.
“All of these streams of revenue will a) increase its likelihood of succeeding and b) make it a more vibrant corner of the lakeshore,” said Cox.
Former mayor Garry Litke said he wanted to be at the Monday rally, but was unable to attend. Litke said that when he left office last year, they were discussing a three-phase development. The marina upgrades and the restaurant were on the table, but the water slide complex was still under discussion.
He said there are many examples of private business operating on public land, including the South Okanagan Events Centre and LocoLanding.
Litke said it can be a grey area whether these private enterprises are public or private amenities. Some, he said, can be considered a public amenity, operating for the good of the public and the community.
“It is when that amenity becomes exclusive, where the public can’t access it, that it becomes a little harder to decide,” said Litke. “There are lots of examples of those kind of partnerships where private interests are involved, but it provides a public benefit.”
“It was really interesting to see how much interest this has generated in the community,” said Litke, noting that he had never seen that many people out for a rally before.
“That is probably a positive factor. The more people get involved, the more responsible the decision making will be on council,” said Litke. “I think what is involved here is a fundamental principle. Who owns that land, and who gets to decide what is done with that land?
“Generally speaking, people believe that is their land and they should get to decide what is going to be done with it.”
Litke also suggests the public hasn’t had the same time to consider the project as the councillors, who have been thinking about the pros and cons for some time.
“Then, when they go to the electorate, they expect them to fast forward to that same place they have come to after maybe several months of information and education,” said Litke.