Annexation debate heats up at RDNO

The City of Vernon is standing its ground over absorbing rural properties

The City of Vernon is standing its ground over absorbing rural properties.

Three Vernon directors opposed a Regional District of North Okanagan board decision Wednesday not to support applications for 13 lots in Areas B and C to be annexed into the city.

“We don’t see how in good conscious we can refuse these,” said director Rob Sawatzky.

Currently, a property owner can apply to the city for annexation and the final decision is made by the provincial government. The regional district can oppose the application but it has no formal role in the process.

Sawatzky says many rural properties want to join the city so they can replace failing septic systems with sewer and protect the environment.

“When people on septic want a higher level of service and their property is contiguous with the city, how can we refuse them?” he said.

Sawatzky points out that the city doesn’t initiate annexations and expanding its boundaries can be detrimental.

“It makes us larger and less efficient.”

Mike Macnabb, BX-Silver Star director, insists that the city can reject annexation applications.

“If you look at Vernon’s official community plan, it says this expansion without densification in existing areas is inappropriate,” he said.

Bob Fleming, BX-Swan Lake director, suggests that annexation bids have more to do with development opportunities than protecting the environment.

“They (city) don’t have to rubber-stamp every application that comes through.”

Fleming says the city has the ability to provide sewer to properties without annexing them and such scenarios already occur in other communities.

The concern from the electoral area directors is the loss of properties undermines their tax base and the ability to provide services.

“A total of 1,850 hectares of Area B have been annexed between 2004 and 2011. It’s not small bits, it’s big bits,” said Fleming.

However, city officials defend the process.

“When a private property owner is asking to come into the city and pay higher taxes for services, I’m surprised people don’t see that as a positive,” said director Mary-Jo O’Keefe.

“They (land owner) see it as necessary or they wouldn’t ask.”

RDNO is also asking the city to hold an open house regarding 11 of the properties proposed for annexation.

The author of a study looking into the impact of annexations will also make a presentation to the regional board.

“I’d like to see us working co-operatively. I’m committed to looking at this more in-depth,” said Juliette Cunningham, Vernon director.