By Steve Hubrecht

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The Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) Area F and Area G Advisory Planning Commission (APC) unanimously decided not to support an application for disposition and sale of public land on the shore of Lake Windermere at Calberley Beach.

The issue has been under discussion for some time. The Pioneer last reported on it in the fall of 2020, when a similar application came forward, only to later be withdrawn. In many respects, the situation remains much the same: public access to Lake Windermere, on its east side, exists at the unincorporated community of Calberley Beach via a road called Highway Drive. Unbeknownst to most Columbia Valley residents, the land stretching along the shore of Lake Windermere to the north and south of where Highway Drive meets the lake is also public land. It’s called ‘the boulevard’, measures roughly 600 feet (213 metres) long and 70 feet (21 metres) wide, has been in place since 1943, and is under control of the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI).

The ‘boulevard’ consists of nine lots in Calberley Beach (lots two through nine) that look like lakefront property, but in fact is not lakefront property. But over the past several decades significant encroachment has occurred, with many property owners building decks, lawns, retaining walls, staircases, and other such structures on what is actually public property. 

The nine property owners of lots two through nine have put forward an application to “close” the parts of the boulevard to the north and south of where Highway Drive meets the lake (although not at the exact point where the drive meets the lake). The idea is for the ‘closed’ land to then be sold from the Ministry of Transportation (MOTI) to the private landowners in Calberley with near-lakefront properties.

The Area F and G Advisory Planning Commission gave the application a thumbs down during its Wednesday, Sept. 20 meeting. The Pioneer (unable to attend in person) was able to patch into part of the meeting by phone, during which time consultant Richard Haworth appeared before the commission, acting as agent for the owners of lots two through nine, giving a presentation on the application.

Haworth emphasized that, if the application succeeds, the public would still be able to access Lake Windermere (where Highway Drive meets the lake), and that the ‘closed’ parts of the boulevard would be sold at market value (a figure likely to be millions of dollars).

“The (public access) road down the lake is quite steep. If anyone is going down there, they generally park on Stoddart Avenue,” he said.

Haworth went on to list several points that, in his view, make Calberley Beach a less than ideal spot for public lake access: fluctuating water levels (“there is no real opportunity for boat access, given how far the water recedes at times,” he said); the type of land at the shore (“this is not a sandy beach, it’s quite mucky,” he said); the narrowness of the public right of way (“it would be difficult to put a park there,” he said); and a lack of potential for public washrooms or parking. 

He later said,  “I don’t know of anyone using it (Calberley Beach) . . . it’s not a very good public access point” and added that “there are numerous other opportunities for lake access in the area”, before listing off the public beach at Windermere, the end of Baltac Road, Timber Ridge, Pedley Heights, Terra Vista, Akisknook Resort, and Shadybrook Resort and Marina.

(Photo by James Rose)

Later in the meeting commission members voted unanimously not to support the application. The Pioneer was not able to listen to that discussion, but RDEK planning supervisor Karen McLeod (who was at the meeting as an RDEK staff member) explained to the Pioneer that concerns raised by commission members in the discussion included the transfer of publicly held land to private land owners, inconsistency between lake access requirements at the time of subdivision and current requirements under the Land Title Act, ensuring lake access to all lake users, and the adequacy of current lake access opportunities in the surrounding area on the lake.

Commission member Hermann Mauthner explained his opposition to the application to the Pioneer after the meeting. “It’s a public place, it should remain a public place, and it should be managed in the interest of the public,” he said. “The population of the Columbia Valley is growing, and there are fewer and fewer spots these days where the public has access to the lake. We need more access to the lake, not less.”

It doesn’t matter if lake access is ‘good’ or not, what matters is that there is too little of it overall, he added. 

“It’s (the potential disposition and sale of the boulevard) kind of been kept quiet,” said Mauthner, adding he understands that it’s probably easiest for MOTI to sell the land rather than keep fighting the considerable encroachment on the boulevard, “but that’s not what’s best for the public.”

Mauthner said that selling the land to near-lakefront property owners in Calberley Beach after they’ve encroached so significantly onto it is some ways akin to letting someone keep something they’ve stolen.

“Nobody told them to go put those retaining walls, staircases, docks, decks and boathouses there. They chose to . . . but if you build a house on my property, it’s my house. If I build a house on your property, it’s your house. If you build a deck or a retaining wall on public property, it’s everybody’s deck or retaining wall. That’s the law. It shouldn’t then become your property.”

The thumbs down from the APC does not veto the application. The commission acts, as its name suggests, in an advisory capacity and is comprised of volunteers from Area F and G. Their advice on the application will now become part of an RDEK staff report, which will proceed to the RDEK board. The RDEK board will then choose whether or not to support the application. But the RDEK’s approval (or non-approval) is not the final say either, and will in turn, be taken under consideration by MOTI, the organization that actually makes the decision.