Southern Okanagan farmers protest residential development on rural land
Building 320 housing units on the hillside doesn't fit into the character of Naramata Bench, residents say
Many farmers in Penticton, B.C., are proud of Naramata Bench as a land of agri-tourism, so much so that they drove their tractors down to the city hall to protest a rezoning application they view as unaligned with the region's character.
Tuesday afternoon, up to 30 farmers from the Bench lined up on Main Street to voice their opposition against what they call the "mega-development" of 320 housing units on a 160-acre piece of agricultural land at 1050 Spiller Rd., a project proposed by developer Canadian Horizons.
The company bought the land in 2005 and has posted their rezoning proposal on its website since 2014. Several months ago, it mailed its proposal to Naramata Bench neighbours asking for feedback.
Vineyard farmer John Bilodeau, one of the organizers of the Tuesday rally, said many Penticton residents were unaware of Canadian Horizons' housing project until recently.
"It wasn't until we started to send out emails to some of the local people that we got such outrage and shock at what was planned," he told Chris Walker, host of CBC's Daybreak South. "One of our biggest concerns as farmers is that it's going to change the whole brand of this area."
Bilodeau also said the high-density residential complex may bring traffic issues to the neighbourhood. The land developer said it's working to address these concerns based on community feedback it received earlier this year.
"We're going to do our best to try to ensure that the development plays into the [Naramata Bench] hillside as best we can," said Nathan Hildebrand, Canadian Horizons' vice president for development. "It's not as imposing as some people may think it is."
The City of Penticton said Canadian Horizons' residential development proposal complies with its official community plan adopted in 2009, which envisions the land in question as a residential zone that can accommodate the municipality's population growth.
But city councillors still have room to weigh in even though they're guided by the plan.
"This is a council that was elected on a platform to listen to the public, and I know that the public opinion and public feedback [are] considered very highly by this particular council," said Blake Laven, development services director for the City of Penticton.
The city council will hold a public hearing on Canadian Horizons' rezoning application in November at the earliest.
With files from Daybreak South