Former Waterside property to be rezoned?

Invermere residents supported rezoning Waterside property.

Several Invermere residents voiced general support, albeit with concerns about potential traffic issues, during a recent public hearing on a zoning change for the former Waterside property.

A total of nine area residents turned out to the hearing on Tuesday, January 7th, which centred on the current property owner’s request to revert the zoning for the land back to what it was prior to the proposed Waterside project.

The Waterside project (which at various points and under various owners, has also been called the Octagon Properties project and Vista Del Lago project) was first proposed in 2005, and if it had come to fruition would have seen more than 600 condominiums (possibly in condo towers up to nine storeys tall), an 87,000 square foot (more than 8,000 square metre) downtown hotel and conference centre, and up to 50,000 square feet (4,500 square metres) of commercial space built, for the most part, on the land sitting between the Eddie Mountain Memorial Arena and 4th Avenue (the inukshuk statue) on the west and the Canadian Pacific Rail tracks along the shores of Lake Windermere to the east.

The project collapsed for a host of reasons: its overambitious scope, the bursting in and around 2008 of what turned out to be a mercurially hot real estate bubble in the Columbia Valley, and the descent in 2010 and 2011 of then-owners Stoneset Equity Development Corp. into a swampy quagmire of major financial problems, including staggering debts, little apparent income, multimillion dollar working capital deficits, the sudden resignation of the company’s chief financial officer, two stock market de-listings, and a RCMP investigation into the company president’s alleged involvement with a Costa Rican Ponzi scheme.

The dramatic demise of Waterside was sealed as, with foreclosure looming, the whole grandiose scheme dissolved amidst a litany of actual and threatened lawsuits (some seeking as much as $25 million), statements of claim, and allegations of negligence, involving Stoneset, Octagon Properties Ltd., Trumpet Capital, Aqueous Capital Corp, and an independent property assessor. At one brief point Stoneset made noises about suing the District of Invermere over a bylaw related to the property.

The land has sat vacant ever since, as either a cautionary reminder of the heady days of the valley’s mid-to-late-2000s real estate boom, or as one of Invermere’s more scenic lake overlooks and the town’s prime spot for Canada Day fire works viewing, depending on your perspective.

During the public hearing, Invermere councillor Gerry Taft outlined that the current owner is the creditor for the previous owners, and surmised that trying to go back to the original zoning (“downzoning,” as councillor Taft put it) is likely part of an effort to sell some or all of the property.

The residents at the hearing almost universally gave general support to the downzoning, but all added minor misgivings either about the potential traffic impacts of any development on the land, the timing of notice about the public hearing coming over the Christmas holidays, or the potential for multi-family residential (high density) development (which the reverting to the old zoning would allow for) to block lake views.

Invermere planner Rory Hromadnik noted that the maximum number of units possible under the proposed rezoning is 36, and the maximum number of storeys possible would be four, in comparison with the 600 plus units and nine storeys of the Waterside proposal, and also added that the land owner is not actually proposing development at this time. Councillor Taft added the owner probably wants to sell the land off as-is.

“I think even a three-storey view (blocking sight lines to the lake from the inukshuk) won’t work for many,” said Invermere resident David Oaks. “I understand we can’t pull back from development completely, but we should do what we can to preserve access to the water and sight lines to the water.”

Aside from the input of the nine residents at the meeting, council received email input from three local residents on the matter. Council will consider the input before deciding on the rezoning request during a future council meeting.

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