Invermere council members reiterated their personal support for reducing plastic bags during last week’s council meeting, and narrowly voted not to grant a development variance permit that would have eliminated designated required parking spots and saved more than $20,000 for the new Dragonfly daycare centre.
Determined Invermere resident Stephanie Van De Kemp came as a delegation of one to the Tuesday, January 28 meeting, following up on her efforts in December when she collected more than 1,000 names on a petition and presented to council, seeking to ban single-use checkout plastic bags in Invermere. She gave a detailed run down of statistics, noting that Canadians throw away more than 34 million single-use plastic bags every day (or more than 23,611 per minute). Van De Kemp also pointed out that several B.C. municipalities including Victoria, Tofino and Squamish have already banned plastic bags, and that three local stores (Sobeys, Home Hardware and AG Valley Foods) have done so.
Invermere mayor Al Miller told Van De Kemp that he personally agrees with her, saying “it’s a movement now and it’s rolling.” He told her in terms of the district making a formal policy on plastic bags, that “it’s on our priorities for advocacy, but it’s not set up for bylaws at the moment.”
During the public question and comment period at the end of the meeting, several other members of the public voiced support for the ban. Van De Kemp asked how it could be bumped from an advocacy priority to a bylaw or policy-level priority. Miller explained it would have to go through an official process, first being discussed by the Committee of the Whole, and that to elevate to it to a policy priority necessarily entails bumping another pending matter off the policy priority list and replacing it with the plastic bag policy. He noted that while that may sound simple in theory, it does take time to go through the official process. Van De Kemp expressed a dogged resolve to follow the matter through.
Parking at new daycare
Council received a development variance permit application from Dragonfly Discovery Children’s Centre owner Charlotte Streicek during the January 28 meeting. Streicek, who currently runs the Dragonfly daycare centre in Radium and is seeking to open a new one in Invermere in the old Strand’s restaurant building, sought to decrease the number of required parking spots at the new location from five to zero, which would save Dragonfly $22,500. District staff explained at the meeting that any time there is a “change of use” for a commercial operation with parking spots, the new business is required to pay any additional parking fees.
Neighbours and supporters of the new daycare sent in two letters and a petition with 27 signatures in support of the application. Debate about the issue quickly became heated, and in the end two of the four council members present — Kayja Becker and Ute Juras — voted in support of the application and the two others — Miller and councillor Greg Anderson (who was patched in to the meeting by phone) — voted against the application.
Anderson asked if Dragonfly had listed parking as one of the items on its successful grant application to the Columbia Basin Trust. Streicek confirmed parking was on the list, but added that unforeseen problems with the building had raised other expenses far beyond what she had anticipated.
“We were aware of the parking, but had I known about the mechanical engineering issues, I would have done things differently,” said Streicek. “It’s to the point where the remaining money is needed to help us complete the project.”
“I’m going to be voting in favour of consistency and fairness to other businesses,” said Anderson.
“It’s going to set precedence. And any time a new business changes hands, we’re going to get asked for variance on parking — with good reason,” said Miller. “We shouldn’t vary.”
Becker agreed it is complicated to balance the needs of the larger community for parking space and the need for fairness and consistency with all businesses with the community’s need for daycare, but pointed out the need for daycare is quite strong, and ultimately voted in favour of granting the variance along with Juras.
Council members actually voted twice, the first time on a resolution from district staff not to grant the variance permit. The two-two vote meant the resolution (not to grant the application) stood. Juras then immediately tabled a new motion directly in favour of the application (rather than on the resolution from district staff). The second vote also ended in a two-two stalemate, meaning the variance permit application was denied.
“I am very disappointed that two of the four councillors voted against the parking variance, with the tie (vote) going to the district, despite community support,” Streicek told the Pioneer, speaking a few days after the meeting. “We always knew we could apply for the variance if there were unexpected costs to free up some of the funding to complete the project as presented. The district has $176,615.67 in the parking reserve fund, so it is sad that this funding that is supposed to go into the daycare, is going into a parking fund. Our capacity will be 52 children maximum a day and the restaurant (Strand’s) had 120 occupancy.”
The matter is now subject to a six-month cooling off period before it can be brought before council again, with only one regulatory loophole exception — if the mayor chooses to bring the matter back to council before the six-month cooling off period is over.