Around 50 people gathered at the Columbia Valley Centre on Wednesday, March 20th for a public hearing to talk about the District of Invermere’s (DOI) plan to spend up to $5 million to purchase the Lake Windermere Resort Lands in Athalmer and to share their support or voice their concerns.

“I personally am very, very excited about our future,” Mayor Al Miller said in his opening remarks, adding that despite his enthusiasm for the potential purchase “it’s ultimately going to be up to you folks to make that decision.”

The DOI is seeking public feedback to determine if the plan can proceed. If fewer than 10 per cent of eligible voters send in a form to oppose the purchase, council can buy the land. But if 239 or more submit their forms, council will have to abandon the land deal or carry it forward for a referendum.

Those in favour of buying the land don’t have to do anything but wait to see the results. Those who would like to register their opposition can do so by filling out the Alternate Approval Process Form, which is available at the DOI office and online at Responses must be received by Monday, April 15th at 4:30 p.m. and need to include proof of residency.

A few people at the hearing were frustrated that the DOI doesn’t have a specific plan for what do with the land if the sale goes through. Would it become a park? A hotel complex? A commercial space where the DOI sells or rents the land to those who would further the yet-to-be-determined vision? It’s anyone’s guess. If the sale is approved, the DOI would embark on a public-engagement process to determine what the community wants them to do with the land.

Chris Prosser, the DOI’s chief administrative officer, said that when the property owner unexpectedly dropped the price last August, the opportunity “kind of caught us off guard.”

From there, council opted to survey the public about the proposed $5-million-dollar deal during the October municipal election. When the response came back with 66 per cent in favour, he said the DOI was “genuinely shocked… about how much support there was at that price point.”

Others at the hearing were concerned that the price tag for the land doesn’t include the costs to provide services – such as for water and sewer – to the land or other costs for whatever the community ultimately wants to put on the waterfront plot.

One woman said she “would never pursue a venture without knowing what it’s going to cost me” and that “it’s hard for me to make a decision yes or no” without knowing the financial implications.

“I had the same questions you had,” councillor Ute Juras told the audience. “(But) how much money are we going to spend to make a plan if we don’t even know if it’s ours?”

Getting concrete answers to those questions could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, said Mr. Prosser, adding that the responses are necessarily up in the air because they will depend on what the DOI ultimately chooses to do with the land. If the land is used as a park, for instance, he said there would be no need for additional water and sewer services. But it would be an entirely different story if the area included a commercial development.

Councillor Kayja Becker, who recently purchased a home, said paying for all of the answers before buying the land would be like a prospective homeowner shelling out for a planner and designer before taking over the title to a house.

People generally don’t regret the opportunities they take but regret the ones they miss, she said.

A few of those in the audience raised concerns about ongoing water and sewer issues in Athalmer and were told that the DOI intends to hold a planning process for Athalmer whether or not the community supports the land purchase.

Others stated their desire for the land to be turned into a park or returned to its natural wetland state, while others – including councillor Greg Anderson – are concerned about implications for the marina if the DOI doesn’t purchase the land.

Still others asked why the DOI thinks it could make the property viable when those who own the land have been unable to develop it. Mayor Miller responded that the owner brought forward plans to build low-density housing that council rejected out of concerns that it would further restrict public access to the lake.

Another audience member claimed that the land hadn’t been developed “because it’s a swamp” and asked if it “would be responsible to have a building development on a flood plain.”

Mayor Miller said there would be grade requirements. Building on the land would be an option for the waterfront property like it was for the neighbouring Lake Windermere Pointe condos.

Also concerned about water levels, another participant asked: “Do we have sufficient faith in the Columbia River Treaty to even consider doing this?”

“It’s obviously a consideration,” Mayor Miller responded, “but I don’t think they’re going to flood us out.”

The hearing stretched on for two hours as residents expressed their hopes and concerns and as councillor Gerry Taft’s preschooler quietly shared his concern with how long the proceedings were lasting.

While most participants had more-complex opinions about whether or not the DOI should invest in the property, one man kept his sentiments concise. As he left toward the end of the hearing, he called out simply: “Buy it.”


“Paradise is where you have some room to move”

You used to be able to ride your horse all around Lake Windermere, Bob Campsall told those gathered at the Lake Windermere Resort Lands hearing on Wednesday, March 20th.

Speaking as a private citizen, the former council member and principal later told the Pioneer that while he had a “wonderful experience” representing the community, “you can certainly see where sometimes hindsight would have been more satisfying, would have been better for the people of the Valley.”

“When I moved here in 1962, you could go almost anywhere in any direction. There were not a whole bunch of no-trespassing signs and fences. It was a free country to move in… and people could go down and use the lakeshore for a picnic or whatever they wanted and now those areas are all fenced off and privatized and we no longer have free access to an awful lot of the lake.”

While the public should have access to the shoreline up to the high-water mark, he said that’s not often what they get with docks stretching down to the water and rendering the shoreline impassable.

“You’ve got people who have signs up there telling you to ‘keep off; private beach.’ And what I’m saying is this beautiful area, we’re losing access to huge parts of it, and I don’t think that’s right.”

“This is what happens in a modern society, a prosperous society, it gets bought and developed. But every piece that gets bought and developed by individuals is lost to the general public. Where do we draw the line? Should the general public have access to the lakeshore, or should the property owners around the lake control that? That’s all I’m asking.”

“I would see nothing wrong with buying this property and turning it into a park, strictly a park, because that would draw all kinds of people here. And you know what they’re talking about? That’s 30 cents a day for property, and people are making a big fuss over it. It just doesn’t make sense. The key to it though is that if you don’t take this opportunity, you won’t get a second chance. It’s grab it while you can and let the next generation enjoy it. Because if you don’t take it now, somebody else will and there will be your fences and your no-trespassing signs.”

“Paradise is where you have some room to move, and we have to make sure that we maintain room to move for ourselves and for our future generations,” he said.