Latest concept increases parkland and green space, reduces development

By Steve Hubrecht

Invermere council members got an update on the Athalmer Neighbourhood Plan, including the Lake Windermere Resorts (LWR) lands during its committee of the whole meeting earlier this month.

The update came in the form of a report from planning consultants B&A Planning Group, which has been working on the project for more than a year, and included the final draft concept for the area.

This latest iteration of the project, labelled ‘Concept E: Marina and Lakeside Park’ envisions even more green space and even less development than the previous ‘Concept D: Marina and Ecovillage’, which was the subject of a public open house and online consultation back in November. Public feedback from that consultation informed the design of Concept E.

Key points in Concept E, as compared with Concept D, include expanded parkland and reduced ponds; the addition of active transport elements including crossings, transportation hubs, pathways and improved access; and expanded non-motorized boat amenities. In addition to interpretive and museum components, some Indigenous components have been added. The formal amphitheatre seating and building envisioned in Concept D is removed in Concept E and replaced with a talk circle and fire pit. The development area has been reduced to a single building site along 3rd Ave., and space for a potential fish hatchery (or at least an interpretive site related to fish hatcheries) has been included north of the Athalmer bridge.

B&A partner Geoff Dyer attended the Tuesday, March 9 committee meeting digitally, and explained some of the changes to council members.

“Now it’s more of an amphitheatre-shaped hill that could serve as amphitheatre, but there’s not permanent seating in it. And it aims down to essentially a fire circle or a discussion circle that can have an Indigenous tie-in,” said Dyer of the removal of the formal amphitheatre. He added that reducing development to a single building is in line with public feedback.

Dyer emphasized that this final draft concept plan is still just a concept, and added that council needs to build clear expectations and timelines around that.

“It’s going to take some time…(you) need to take it step by step,” he said. “The policy (council creates) needs to reflect that, that there are things that still need to be done. There are many studies that need to be done in terms of hydrology and other elements on the site.”

Dyer explained that the concept plan is essentially just a starting point for more detailed design, which entails further processes, such as bringing in a landscape architect.

Councillor Greg Anderson asked where the idea of the fish hatchery had come from. Invermere planner Rory Hromadnik explained it was a result of consultation with the neighbouring Shuswap Indian Band, and that one Shuswap councillor in a particular, Mark Thomas, was very keen to have a burbot hatchery there, or at the very least set aside space in the design for such an endeavour. Anderson replied that based on his decades of working in the natural resource industry, putting in a hatchery is quite complicated, involving multiple federal and provincial agencies, but that he is fine to earmark space for it. Hromadnik conceded that “it does take a lot of land,” but added the project truly is “near and dear” to Thomas. Dyer noted that the concept plan does not need to 100 per cent guarantee a hatchery will be built there in the near future, but could create policy that would allow for it, or for interpretive elements pertaining to fish hatcheries, to be built there at some point.

Councillor Gerry Taft pointed to the hatchery’s location north of the bridge, noted that the area is mostly relatively intact wetland with very little development of any kind, and wondered about the environmental impact. “It might be better off to keep that side (of the bridge) as undisturbed as possible,” he said, and keep any interpretive elements or fish hatcheries south of the bridge.

Talk soon turned Concept E as a whole.

“I like the concept right now…This is probably close to what folks have talked to me about and what we’ve talked about as a council,” said Anderson.

“I like what I’m seeing,” said Invermere mayor Al Miller, adding people had questioned him why Concept D envisioned putting in a pond, when there are many acres of unspoiled wetland immediately downriver.

Taft said reducing the development to a single building and locating it on 3rd Ave., where other development already is, makes economic sense, as it keeps servicing costs low.

Conversation then turned to the broader Athalmer Neighbourhood Plan, of which the Lake Windermere Resort lands are part. (The Lake Windermere Resort lands are plural rather than singular – i.e. lands instead of land — because they are comprised of what was once upon a time 27 separate parcels).

“It’s been a pretty solid (planning) process” for the Athalmer Neighbourhood Plan, said Dyer, adding the planning team had several epiphanies along the way.

“I’ve had a lot of experience with these great little gritty, funky neighbourhoods that people just love and the tendency is to want to go in and draw all the new buildings, and show where all the hipsters are going to move in, and all that, and I think it’s a mistake,” said Dyer. “I think where we’re headed with the (Athalmer) neighbourhood plan is that we’ve already got a pretty solid foundation. We’ve got a lot of residents that are fairly content. Nobody’s coming to us, telling us they are desperate for this to happen or wanting more speed bumps.”

Dyer added that outside of the public lands, such as the Lake Windermere Resort lands, which are obviously slated for a change, the planning team has been careful to pay attention to what has already been done.

“The idea is not about saying ‘this is how your neighbourhood is going to change’. It’s about helping move to the next level, opening up some opportunities for you, helping you target some improvements as they are needed. It’s really a light touch,” said Dyer. “You don’t need a wholesale re-development per se.”

There were some new active transport elements in the Athalmer Neighbourhood Plan, including crossing connections, an electric vehicle hub, and e-bike and bike provisions. Other elements of the plan that Dyer highlighted include the idea of keeping a ‘village concept’, which means keeping streets walkable and paying attention to pathways. He noted the industrial area of Athalmer (the part on the east side of Panorama Drive) is not all industrial, there are also small businesses and the potential for some residential spaces.

Taft outlined that he thinks less restrictive commercial zoning in Athalmer would be a good thing, saying that “in the future, I would like to see the area opened up to more uses than just restaurants and gas stations.”

Dyer noted that there is a national trend toward loosening land uses, and that since there are no truly noxious uses in the industrial area, it could have live-work options, but that the role of the neighbourhood plan is to provide guidance, and that actual zoning changes are something council needs to work on in the form of zoning bylaws.

Hromadnik suggests the district’s commercial zoning bylaw is, in fact, in need of an update, as it references plenty of examples of outdated uses, such as video rentals stores.

Invermere chief administrative officer Andrew Young concurred that most noxious business uses tend to be located well outside of the district instead of in its commercial areas, and that “this is an opportunity for us to look at our zoning and come up with something that will be a little more flexible and will encourage businesses.”