New farms are cropping up, new buildings are on the rise and new amenities and events are on the horizon. All of it points to the fact that the North Okanagan is on the grow.
Local leaders from Coldstream, Vernon and the Regional District of North Okanagan highlighted such changes and development at the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce’s Local Leaders Breakfast at the Village Green Wednesday.
“Vernon is growing,” said Mayor Akbal Mund, pointing to figures such as a five per cent population growth in Vernon alone.
Between 2014 and 2016, building permits in the city were up 36 per cent, there were 727 new units and downtown there were more than $25 million in building permits and 100 new businesses. Last year saw $126 million in building permits and 493 residential units – the highest in 10 years.
“Construction continues to be strong, especially in the single family residential,” said Mund, noting numerous projects nearing completion such as the BC Hydro building, as well as many on the horizon such as Four Points By Sheraton.
Meanwhile the city is keeping pace with infrastructure needs. Last year $8.8 million was spent on infrastructure and rehabilitation, another $14 million is being invested this year and that number will only continue to grow.
“All of this would not be possible if our last council did not implement the 1.9 per cent infrastructure fee,” said Mund.
In Coldstream, development on Middleton Mountain (Mt. Ida Crescent) is underway and industrial growth is prominent in Lavington with the new pellet plant and sale of the old glass plant. Restoration Lands is refurbishing the site (which has been vacant since 2008) to produce mag board – magnesium oxide products to replace gypsum drywall.
“Right now that product is only sold out of China,” said Mike Reiley, Coldstream planner, adding that the large facility is open to others moving in to use the product.
While the industrial upswing is good for Coldstream and the economy, it comes with growing pains for the community.
“People get upset,” said Mayor Jim Garlick of resident complaints over noise and pollution. “When you bought in the downswing there weren’t as many trains on the tracks.”
The same goes for recent agricultural growth as 150 acres of apples and 160 acres of cherries have and are being planted. Residents aren’t happy with helicopter noise, spraying and farm worker housing, but Coldstream must balance resident needs with the benefits of the agricultural growth.
“Agriculture is what set this area up,” Garlick points out.
Coldstream is also growing in popularity with such amenities as the Okanagan Rail Trail, something Regional District of North Okanagan chairperson Bob Fleming has also been working on. Between the ORT and the 43-km Okanagan Shuswap Rail Trail (which is looking at a 2017 completion), there is the potential for connection with other popular spots such as the Kettle Valley Rail.
Over in Cherryville new heli-skiing and cat-skiing accommodations are growing and over in Enderby the new Mabel Lake Resort marina is in operation with a new subdivision underway.
“I love this region and I think we have the good fortune to live in one of the best places in Canada and therefore in the world,” said Fleming, an Okanagan Landing Elementary graduate who lived on Lakeshore Road and doesn’t ever remember the level of flooding that the area is currently facing.
The beauty and hospitality of the region also lends to the ability to host events such as the 55+ BC Games.
“Vernon’s great at putting on events,” said Wee Yee, president of the Sept. 12-16 Games.
A special torch lighting for the Games takes place June 17 during the Sunshine Festival. Yee encourages volunteers and sponsors to step forward and be a part of the momentous Games, and he also hopes to see a certain politician taking part in the event.
“The challenge is still out for Mayor Mund to participate in some event. He does qualify now.”