Council facing crunch on downtown plan

Proposed city centre neighbourhood plan debated

The clock is ticking for a new vision for Vernon’s central core.

City staff have been asked to bring back more details on the proposed city centre neighbourhood plan after more than 60 people attended a two-hour public hearing Monday. However, there is a time crunch to complete the land use document.

“We’re running out of time to adopt this neighbourhood plan,” Leon Gous, chief administrative officer, told council.

There are only five regular council meetings left before Nov. 19’s civic election and if major changes to the plan are required, another public hearing will be needed.

One of the concerns is new councillors elected in November will not have the background information needed to make a decision on the plan.

“It would be a disaster for it to go into an election and it change all over again,” said Coun. Mary-Jo O’Keefe.

Most of the people who spoke at the public hearing opposed the plan in its current form.

“If you read this report, you’ll come to the conclusion that you should take another look,” said businessperson Morgan Thomas, adding that public consultation wasn’t sufficient.

“Our council has to initiate a mechanism to touch all people.”

Many of the concerns revolved around land-use designation being changed for some properties and how that may impact current activities or future development.

Jason Gilbert, who sits on the city’s economic development committee, says the process could prevent investors from moving to Vernon.

“When decisions are made that affect people’s property, those stories resonate and they tell their friends and family,” he said.

A primary concern has been shifting part of 31st Street from mixed residential and commercial uses to strictly residential.

“Too much has changed in this neighbourhood to force it back to residential only,” said Jeff Boschert, whose wife owns property in the area.

Boschert says the area faces pressures from the nearby highway and people have been able to afford properties for business while perhaps living on site.

“This area has been a vital incubator for small businesses in the community.”

Complaints also arose over possibly reducing 43rd Avenue, near 29th Street, from four to three lanes to allow for bicycle paths.

“Three lanes will move traffic out of our area and hurt our businesses,” said Gary Krieger, who owns Tireland.

However, there was some support for the neighbourhood plan.

“If we stop this plan, you’ll put the gear in reverse and it will be difficult to get things going forward,” said John Deak, adding that there is a need to stimulate growth and investment.

The city centre neighbourhood plan is expected to be back before council members for consideration Sept. 26.