Vernon politicians insist they have taken every necessary step to protect part of the Commonage.
Council voted 6-1 Monday to issue a development variance permit for a 28-lot subdivision on 242 hectares near Chum Road. It includes one 80.9-hectare lot.
“The land owner has a legal right to subdivide and by granting the variance, it provides an opportunity to protect sensitive ecosystem through covenants,” said Coun. Buffy Baumbrough.
Mayor Wayne Lippert says one large parcel will make it easier for wildlife to move around than if there were several individual lots.
“It leaves a lot more land unobstructed by fences,” he said.
While many residents have expressed opposition to any kind of subdivision, city officials say that even if the variance had been denied, subdivision could not be blocked because of existing zoning.
“I can’t agree to ignore people’s rights to property,” said Coun. Mary-Jo O’Keefe.
Lone opposition to the variance came from Coun. Bob Spiers.
“I wanted more information on the layout that could occur with the variance,” said Spiers, adding, though, that actual development could not be stopped.
“I would have probably eventually gone along (with the variance).”
Bob Armstrong, who owns the property, says his goal is to ensure the integrity of the grasslands and wildlife habitat.
“We’ve put a lot of work into the plan and it’s the best decision in regards to the environment,” he said, adding that parts of the area have been abused over the years.
“It can be more beautiful than it is now.”
Armstrong won’t speculate on the subdivision proceeding.
“We’ll have a family meeting and make that decision,” he said.
The recently formed North Okanagan Natural Areas Preservation Committee is upset with council’s actions.
“They had the option of saying no and leaving the developer with their options,” said spokesperson David Kennedy.
Kennedy says the variance is a major departure from the intent of current zoning and he challenges the accuracy of sensitive ecosystem mapping provided by the applicant to the city.
There is also a concern that subdivision of the Armstrong lands will put pressure on other adjacent properties to develop.
“We asked if this will set a precedent and they (city) didn’t answer the question,” said Kennedy.
NONAP will appear before council Aug. 8.
“What’s badly needed is an overall (land use) plan for the area,” said Kennedy.