A provincial agency is being accused of dropping the ball after plans for a Greater Vernon sports complex were rejected.
The Agricultural Land Commission has ruled that 10 acres next to Okanagan College in Coldstream is suitable for agriculture and non-farm uses like a running track and sports field will not be allowed.
“I’ve been here since the 1960s and it’s never been used for agriculture,” said Bill Tarr, with the Vernon Minor Football Association. “Where is the voice of youth and the community? This is a travesty.”
Tarr takes issue with the ALC report that questions the “purported community need for the recreational facility.”
“If they are looking for a need, all they have to do is drive around Vernon and see that there isn’t a proper track or football field,” said Tarr.
The ALC dashes the likelihood that Greater Vernon residents will vote to borrow $7.8 million for a complex in November.
“If we don’t have a site, we don’t know the true costs, so we can’t have a referendum,” said Wayne Lippert, Greater Vernon Advisory Committee chairperson.
The ALC states the site has “very good agricultural capability,” based on soil conditions there.
“The commission was concerned the use of the land for recreational purposes would signal to Agricultural Land Reserve landowners and the wider community that good capability farm land is not being protected for future farm uses,” says the report.
“The commission also considered the benefits of using a portion of this site for a farmer’s market or agricultural education. While these uses represented significant benefits to regional agriculture, they could also be pursued without the necessity of constructing a track and field facility.”
The ALC also states that no regional analysis for sports facilities was submitted with the application and GVAC, which oversees recreational issues, was not involved in the application.
Without information on current facilities and future expansion areas, the agency states it was difficult to place the sports complex plan in context.
Tarr insists that GVAC was an active partner in planning for the proposed land use.
“The regional district has been involved in this from the get-go,” he said.
“Staff has been the facilitator at meetings between the college and user groups.”
Lippert admits GVAC wasn’t as involved in the process as much as it could have been.
“Coldstream was clear it wanted to handle the matter and keep everyone at arm’s length,” he said.
Jim Garlick, Coldstream mayor, hasn’t ruled out an appeal of the ALC decision.
“I don’t want to see this die. We should keep this as a potential site,” he said.
But Garlick says he understand’s the concerns coming from the agency.
“They don’t want us to come back again and again with applications for sports facilities,” he said.
“They want a master plan and that’s fair. Greater Vernon needs to determine the needs of the community and where we want facilities.”
The North Okanagan Regional District had agreed to lease the 10 acres from Okanagan College, which had lobbied for the sports complex.
“We have to respect the mandate and responsibilities of the ALC,” said John Lent, OC dean.
“At this point, we will be consulting with all involved parties including the college’s board of governors.”
Lippert believes it could take some time to determine the next steps.
“There is always the possibility of an appeal but we have to look at the concerns and see if the plan can be modified,” he said.
“We are looking at other locations and we may have to go back to the drawing board.”
However, Tarr is concerned the need for sports amenities will stall because other potential locations are in the ALR and will require ALC approval.
“We will be going through this time after time. I guess we’re hooped,” he said.