By Eric Elliot

Pioneer Staff

The Regional Distrct of East Kooteany board of directors will be voting today (Friday, February 10th) during its monthly meeting on the application to amend two bylaws in order to move forward on a new development along Westside road on the east side of Lake Windermere in Area F.

The bylaw amendment application, submitted by Haworth Development Consulting, requests to amend the Lake Windermere Official Community Plan (OCP) designation from rural resource to small holdings, and amend the Columbia Valley Zoning bylaw designation from rural resource zone to small holding semi-rural zone. Richard Haworth, the developer, said the plan is to subdivide 23 acres of current land for six smaller acreage lots, which he said there is a current demand for.

Under the current zoning bylaw, the land is considered rural resource land, which is restricted from being divided below eight hectares. Under the Lake Windermere OCP, subdivision is generally not supported within the Westside subarea, requiring an amendment to the plan that was created in 2008.

As many as 31 people were in attendance on January 25th at the public hearing for the application with 21 letters received by the RDEK prior to the close of the hearing. Colleen Roberts, a member of the Area F advisory planning commission, was in attendance reviewing her letter in opposition of the RDEK going through with the proposal given that the RDEK is currently in the initial stages of creating a new OCP for the region.

As the planning and development department has initiated the review of the Lake Windermere OCP, it would be premature to proceed with processing this application, Ms. Roberts wrote in her letter. As someone who participated in the public participation process of the Windermere OCP in 2008, I feel it is a disservice to those of us who gave their time to now have the RDEK deal with the subject application when the OCP is currently being reviewed.

Another concern she noted in her letter was the voluntary contribution of $1,000 by the developer to the District of Invermere that would be used towards a public boat launch. The voluntary contribution references a motion passed by the District of Invermere council in a November 9th council meeting that the district support the development, encouraging the developer to pay $1,000 for every new lot under the proposed subdivision.

Having a developer voluntarily contribute to an amenity such as the boat launch opens up the RDEK to accusations of impropriety and could result in a perceived level of coercion during the planning process, Ms. Roberts wrote. What happens when the next developer submits an application and is asked to make a voluntary amenity contribution and says no?

District of Invermere mayor Gerry Taft said it is standard practice for the RDEK to ask for referral comments from agencies that might have an affected interest in the land zoning change and that the district followed the lead of the City of Cranbrook, which similarly asks for a voluntary contribution for its road infrastructure any time the RDEK proposes development near its borders.

Obviously, the boat launch at Petes Marina is in very poor condition so the concept is to try and raise some money towards upgrading public boat launches, said Mayor Taft.

As for Invermere councils unaminous support of the development, he said that if the proposal was higher in density, then likely council would have had more concerns because of the potential for dense urban development very close to its boundaries and the impacts that could have on municipal services and taxation.

An OCP in Invermere cannot plan for or comment on land use policies outside of our boundaries, he added. There are some general guiding principles within the Invermere OCP that would suggest both support and opposition to the concept of the proposed rezoning and subdivision.

There are comments that development should not sprawl and should be more dense, but there are also comments about establishing urban containment boundaries and allowing for a variety of housing types.

Local rancher Dave Zehnder disagrees, and voiced his displeasure with Invermeres support for the proposal and the developments potential effects on local agriculture.

The main issue is that its really inconsistent with all the public sentiment about the question of development along the west side of the lake that weve seen through a number of processes, he said. Its also very inconsistent with the RDEK OCP for Windermere. The official community plan needs to be modified to accomodate this. The reason it was created the way that it was, was because they wanted to avoid this from happening. It was the public sentiment when they did the OCP that they didnt want sprawl along the west side of the lake so they made huge lot sizes and that was the OCP reflected.

Given the character of the area, the lands ecological value and the endangered species in the area, Mr. Zehnder said he cant understand why there was a letter written in support of this application by Invermere council when it contradicts the RDEKs Agricultural Policy, which Mayor Taft signed as a regional director.

The biggest impact is that it fuels speculation on agriculture land. This was agricultural land; it was created consistently for over the last 100 years by a number of different ranches throughout the valley and it was an important part of ranch operations throughout the valley, he said. By taking agricultural land and developing on it, it shows that you can buy cheap agricultural land and make a profit on it and that erodes the amount of agricultural land in the area.

In its report, the RDEK staff recommended that the RDEK board of directors not approve the proposed development, as did the RDEK planning advisory commission, which Ms. Roberts worked on. The RDEK board of directors decision will determine whether or not the proposed development goes to a third and final reading.