Revelstoke city council settled in and seemed to hit their stride at their second town hall meeting held at the Revelstoke Community Centre May 17.
While the first meeting in November 2010 arguably lacked focus and got hung up on complaints focusing on narrow issues, the second meeting benefited from a clearer scope and better rapport between city council, city staff and public participants.
That’s not to say the roughly 90 people there didn’t touch on hot button issues.
The focus of the town hall was master planning, an attempt to bring the public up to speed on the extensive planning processes that have been ongoing since this council was elected nearly three years ago.
Master planning was broken down into three categories, and discussed in that order.
The first was land use, zoning and public participation.
The second was parks, recreation and culture.
The third was transportation.
Mayor David Raven introduced the panel. He noted planning for Revelstoke Mountain Resort preceded his term as mayor, and that it had changed Revelstoke.
“All of that planning led to major changes within our community … I was downtown on Saturday and I knew very few people,” Raven said, adding five years ago, he would’ve known most of them.
He said all of the planning processes were about planning for similar changes to come. “We have to have our priorities straight as a council,” he said.
Following the mayor’s introduction, councillors gave a brief presentation on each of the three topics, followed by a Q&A from the public.
Editor’s note: The Q&A session is divided by topic, including general questions at the end.
1. Land use, zoning and public participation
Coun. Chris Johnston expressed his support for the ongoing planning processes, saying if you didn’t do it now, you’d pay more for it later.
He said land use and zoning changes were expected to be wrapped up in the fall of this year.
Columbia Park resident Jackie Morris said development on Westside Road impacted her. She noted new gravel pits and motorized recreation development and asked where it was all going. “I think there needs to be some kind of overall guidance,” Morris said.
“Westside Road has been a planning frustration,” Johnston admitted. For example, he said if a gravel pit is a permitted use, there isn’t much the city can do.
The city is exploring a plan to charge for hauling on city property, and had introduced an early draft of a soil removal bylaw for properties inside city limits.
Likewise, “If it is outside the city boundary, there is very little the city can do about it,” Johnston said.
Coun. Antoinette Halberstadt noted a recent resolution at the 2011 Southern Interior Local Governments’ Association annual meeting held earlier in May. The resolution requested more municipal input on gravel pit decisions. Currently, provincial authorities have final say. The idea was to, “make that ministry seriously consider the input of communities, but at this time we are relatively powerless,” Halberstadt said.
2. Parks, Recreation and Culture master plan
Coun. Tony Scarcella said that public input on the plan was being added, and the final draft should be ready for council in June. He also noted a proposed new trail plan should be available for public viewing at the Revelstoke Community Centre on May 18.
Once the plan gets council approval in June, the next step is to form a new recreation committee that would provide advice to council on how to implement the plan.
Resident Shirley Berg commented that the culture aspect of the plan seemed somewhat weak compared to the parks and recreation aspects.
Coun. Chris Johnston and Parks, Recreation and Culture director Kerry Dawson explained the culture aspect had been a latecomer to the plan, but that a culture strategy was being developed, and that it would be fleshed out more after the overall framework was in place.
3. Transportation master plan
Coun. Phil Welock summarized the plan to date, noting the $108 million dollar plan extended out 25 years into the future, and that $75 million of it was for eventual replacements of the Illecillewaet and Big Eddy bridges. He also noted the plan was essential to bring in provincial and federal funding, which would account for a significant portion of any big project — if they went ahead at all.
Welock said final changes are being done now and the final plan would be back in front of council in June. The plan is high level, he said. Individual decisions would be made at the council table over the next 25 years.
Welock also addressed the criticism that the city was eschewing local knowledge by bringing outside transportation consultants in. That was the point, Welock said, not only do they bring professional expertise, equipment and knowledge to do long-term forecasting, but they go in “eyes wide open” and identify issues locals might overlook.
City engineering director Brian Mallett concurred. He said it was cost-effective, providing long-term numbers and forecasts of things like future traffic projections.
City planning director John Guenther said the plan factored in broader information that might also be overlooked. For example, Guenther said the new Petro-Canada gas station next to McDonald’s will be two or three times bigger than the old one, including a restaurant and a convenience store — something that needed to be factored into the decision about what to do with the failing intersection next to it.
On the transportation front, mayor Raven emphasized a renewed push to improve the state of the Trans-Canada Highway. He said the April 9 crash in Malakwa that shut down Highway 1 for a day “has really got my goat.”
Raven said council had an upcoming conference call with the transportation minister. “We are pushing hard. We’ve just had enough,” Raven said, saying recent improvements to the Sea to Sky highway replaced a highway that was already better than the Trans-Canada near Revelstoke. “It’s just not acceptable … I am getting tired of hearing about fatalities in the news,” he said.
Arrow Heights resident Linda Chell expressed concern over Nichol Road, and the ongoing conflict between schoolchildren and resort traffic.
Mayor Raven said city staff had a plan in the works, and he expected it would be before council “by the end of June,” alluding to a bike-trail-like solution.
Another question focused on the status of the Illecillewaet pedestrian bridge plan.
Mayor Raven said there had been some changes, and currently there was a shortfall of grant funding, but it was still in the works.
Resident Betty Sloan commented that there was a need for another Illecillewaet road crossing to serve as a second emergency link to southern communities.
4. General questions
The great Revelstoke population projection debate
Resident Rick Reynolds brought up the issue of population projections, noting all the planning processes were based on increases in population. What was the current projection, and how had population numbers changed since Revelstoke Mountain Resort opened? Did the changes to date match projections?
Mayor Raven said the estimate was for a population doubled to 16–17,000 in the future as a result of the resort, but that was with a ski hill with 28 lifts. It now has three. “My guess is that we probably haven’t grown that much,” Raven said. “We really haven’t had that much growth.”
He noted most ski resorts were struggling in recent years, but Revelstoke had made increases in skier numbers.
Coun. Johnston commented that the resident population doesn’t necessarily drive growth. “My personal feeling is population hasn’t increased at all since the ski hill got going,” he said, adding the 2011 census numbers could settle the debate when they are released next year.
Coun. Welock used the question to drive home a point. He noted BC Hydro was planning for growth, as was Terasen, who are adding new propane tanks at their facility in the industrial park. “If you don’t have a plan … when Jim Abbott came a couple years ago with a big coffee can full of money, if we didn’t have plans for the water tank, Downie lift (station), CPR Hill sewer and the Aquatic Centre (heat-exchanger retrofit), we wouldn’t have got that money,” Welock said. “I’m not a great politician, but I know that if someone comes with six or eight or ten million bucks in a coffee can, you don’t turn ’em down, but you have to have some sort of plan.”
Black window syndrome
Resident Michelle Cole noted on a recent Brownie cookie sales drive that the troop had encountered many apparently empty homes – the so-called black window syndrome that concerns resort town residents. In other words, properties owned by non-residents.
Mayor Raven said the issue was a concern that was identified when the resort was in planning stages. “That’s the nasty side of a resort,” he said. He added, however, that it was a problem before Revelstoke Mountain Resort opened. “It was snowmobilers from northern Alberta,” he said.
Resident, former city councillor and prominent local businessperson Fred Beruschi weighed in on the debate. He felt many of the empty homes were purchased three or four years ago by those speculating on a resort real estate market boom. Many U.S. investors were lured in by developers who dangled the concept of a new Whistler or Vail, Colorado.
“In fact, the market went down,” Beruschi said. “So, they’re stuck with the houses.”
Beruschi said he felt Revelstoke would never get above a population of 12,000. The current working estimate is about 8,000. “So, talking 20,000 people, I think is ridiculous. I’ve said that for ten years, and I intend to be around here for 25 years just to prove it,” he joked — getting some laughs too.
Although it wasn’t discussed at the town hall meeting, at recent council meetings planning director Guenther has indicated he will soon present a plan to go after those illegally renting their homes as vacation rentals. Options include legal action, partnering with federal tax authorities to look for illegal income, rezoning persistent scofflaws from residential to commercial properties and a host of other new enforcement tools. That plan has not yet been presented to council – though it is expected soon.
How much is all of this planning costing us?
Resident Stuart Andrews asked what the price tag was for all of these ongoing planning processes.
Planning director Guenther provided a summary list of costs.
The Parks, Recreation, and Culture master plan was initially funded jointly by the CSRD and the city, each chipping in $20,000 each. The city later added $15,000, and then another roughly $4,000 on the culture aspect, totalling about $69,000.
The Transportation Master Plan utilized federal gas tax funding, and totalled roughly $100,000.
The Unified Development Bylaw cost roughly $135,000. “Almost all of that was gas tax money,” Guenther said.
The Official Community Plan cost about $285,000.
The Community Energy and Emissions Plan cost about $100,000 and was funded through federal gas tax, a Columbia Basin Trust grant and other grant sources.
All in, the total is $689,000 – from an on-the-spot estimate from Guenther.
Councillor Peter Frew explained the federal gas tax is accrued from taxes on fuels like gasoline, saying the city gets about $330,000 annually. The funding comes with strings attached, and the city is limited on what it can use it for.