One Armstrong councillor continues to push for a referendum on the proposed housing development and reconfiguration of the York property, home to the Overlander Golf and Events Centre (formerly the Royal York Golf Course).
Third reading was given to a redesignation bylaw after a 65-minute public hearing on Monday, Sept. 27. The hearing aimed to gather public opinion on the proposed changes that would see the nine-hole golf course remain but shrink considerably in size. More than 140 housing units will also be added to the property.
Coun. Jim Wright was the only councillor that opposed the changes. He has been opposed to developer Patrick Place’s plan for the York property since it first came to council nearly three years ago.
During the hearing, a number of public speakers called for a referendum on the issue, including Wright.
“The facts are that this rezoning has been extremely controversial over the past two-and-a-half years, has a high probability of taxpayers being burdened by added infrastructure costs if this development is approved, as well as the recent inappropriate fast processing leaves a perception of inappropriate influence,” said Wright in a letter to the Morning Star.
Wright claimed the rezoning and OCP amendment process happened without completion of review by the B.C. Forest Ministry and the Transportation Ministry. He also said that the public hearing process was hurried and inadequate.
“The public has not been adequately engaged during this public hearing process,” said Wright. City staff, however, said yes when Mayor Chris Pieper asked at the beginning of the hearing if the city had followed every step of the process correctly.
Coun. Paul Britton disagreed, saying he didn’t believe the application fit the criteria for a referendum, to which Armstrong chief administrative officer Dawn Low agreed.
“There are really specific things we can do a referendum that is usually more in line with the incorporation of a municipality, disposal of utilities, reduction of a municipal council and is a significant contribution of taxpayers’ dollars,” said Low. “So no land use OCP designation and zoning is traditionally used for the referendum.”
Despite this, Wright is calling for the city to hold a referendum during the 2022 municipal election.
“At the very least an Alternative Approval Process could be sought by the mayor and council,” said Wright, referring to the process where 10 per cent of eligible voters would have to vote against the plan for it to be defeated.
Britton, however, was not done with Wright.
He took aim at his colleague and an unnamed group in Armstrong during the public hearing, saying he was appalled by the unsubstantiated negative accusations, abuse, threats and misinformation that have been put forth to the mayor, council, staff, the York family, and the developer by a special interest group and an elected official.
“This actually undermines the democratic decision-making process. We have a responsibility as elected officials to conduct ourselves with honesty and integrity that furthers local government’s ability to provide good governance in this community. There are codes of conduct under the Local Government Act,” said Britton.
The hour-long public hearing did not get heated and respect was shown toward the council by all public speakers, according to Coun. Steven Drapala. Drapala said he also has gotten significant feedback from residents and non-residents that have been accusatory and not based on fact.
“It’s not appropriate to suggest that staff and/or council are involved in collusion, bribery, conflict of interest without presenting evidence of such,” said Drapala. “This approach affects the mental health of the elected officials but more importantly, for me, the mental health of our staff. Our staff work tirelessly to serve the residents of Armstrong.”