By Steve Hubrecht
Public consultation on the Athalmer neighbourhood plan, including the future of the publicly owned Lake Windermere Resort lands, is set to begin soon.
Invermere council members had an update on the project during their Tuesday, June 9 committee of the whole meeting, from three members of planning company B&A Planning (which the district has hired as consultants). B&A partner Geoff Dyer told council that public engagement is set to begin later this month, and gave a brief overview of options for the Lake Windermere Resort lands, cautioning that the three options he was presenting represent only three points (least impact, most impact and a ‘middle ground’) in a broad spectrum of options, and that the purpose of the presentation was to glean council feedback prior to consulting with the public. He added that some of the chief considerations of all the options are wetlands protection, recreation opportunities, pedestrian corridors and Pete’s Marina.
The lowest impact option of the three concepts, which was labelled as ‘marina outpost’ involves marina enhancement, an RV and boat storage area, a wetlands interpretive site, and a walking path. The middle option, labelled as ‘lakeside village’ involves marina expansion (as opposed to just enhancement), boat storage, the wetlands interpretive site, and walking path, but also amenities such as a public events space and/or amphitheatre and what Dyer called a “quaint” and “incremental” development of year-round residential and boutique commercial opportunities, with this ‘village’ taking on a compact, walkable, pedestrian-oriented form. The highest impact concept option was labelled ‘bustling resort’ and envisions quite a lot of opportunities for public amenities (including the wetlands interpretive site, walking path, amphitheatre and more) but comes with intensive tourism development, possibly in the form of hotel-commercial blocks up to 12 stories high.
He outlined that Invermere essentially faces a tradeoff: selling off parts of the public lands to private developers (either incrementally, under the ‘lakeside village’ concept, or at a large scale, under the ‘bustling resort’ concept) to raise the funds needed to create the public amenities the district wants to put in the area (i.e. the interpretive site, walking, path, amphitheatre, etc.).
“This is public land. You’re looking for a return on your investment,” said Dyer, adding that more development means more money to create those parklands and public amenities, but that too much development comes with its own cost.
“You need to find a balance,” he told council members, telling them they need to consider what degree of improvement and what kind of amenities they want on the public land, how much they are willing to sell off to developers in order to get those improvements, and whether or not the developments that do occur should be oriented to locals or oriented to tourists.
“So the ‘bustling resort’ has a high return on investment, but a high impact. Possibly a negative impact,” said Dyer. “Personally I can’t imagine 12 stories (there), but it would be in scale with the Lake Windermere Pointe condos.” He added this concept also carries a risk of having the land “sit sterile” for a long time while the district waits for a large-scale developer to come around, and that with large-scale development, messing up the first stage or phase of the plan can throw the whole plan awry.
The ‘marina outpost’ concept, on the other hand, may be “the most palatable for local residents, but you won’t get a good return on public investment… and it doesn’t really create a great gateway to the community as was imagined,” said Dyer. “It may not even generate enough revenue to do any of the improvements, such as sidewalks or walking paths.”
Another key question Dyer had was: how much parking do you really need and where do you want it to go?
B&A planner Martha McClary outlined the preliminary result of a survey the company had done on the project with 200 local residents; of eight listed priorities, respondents picked ensuring protection and public access to the waterfront as most important, followed by protection of and access to the wetlands, and then supporting a diversity of recreation opportunities. Providing opportunities for day-use boater parking was ranked last.
Mayor Al Miller asked about moving the marina. Dyer answered it had been discussed, but that the sensitive nature of the shoreline gives him the gut feeling that it’s best not to further disturb the shore there by moving the marina.
“I would hate to have it (the development) become a playground for the rich,” said councillor Ute Juras, adding the whole project was sold to residents as ‘this will be public lands.’ Dyer said her concern is a valid one, and that the nicer the area is, the more likely that residential properties there (such as those envisioned in the ‘lakeside village’ concept) will rise in value. He suggested council consider an option such as holding back 25 per cent of lots in the village as a counter measure.
The Lake Windermere Resort lands comprise 27 parcels on 14 acres, including the current lease for Pete’s Marina.