Rob Sawatzky

Rob Sawatzky

Economic conditions rebound

Those attending the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce’s breakfast Thursday heard that the worst of the financial downturn is over

Economic renewal appears to be underway.

Those attending the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce’s mayors and planners breakfast Thursday heard that the worst of the financial downturn is over and growth is moving ahead.

“Things are looking up,” said Rick Fairbairn, Regional District of North Okanagan vice-chairperson, who took to the podium with Vernon Mayor Rob Sawatzky and Coldstream Mayor Jim Garlick.

From January to May, RDNO has experienced building values of $12 million, while building permits in Coldstream are ahead of last year.

In Vernon, there has been $20 million in building permits so far, up 20 per cent from 2013.

“We scraped along the bottom (of the recession) and we’re starting to move up,” said Sawatzky.

Among the projects moving ahead is a $1.4 million facility for Environment Canada on 31st Street.

“It will draw employees from Kelowna, Kamloops and Penticton and nothing makes me happier,” said Sawatzky.

The city has also received an application for a large expansion to B.C. Hydro’s 25th Avenue complex. It could cover seven buildings over 120,000-square-feet.

“It would have the capacity for 300 people,” said Sawatzky.

“It’s not clear that it will go ahead and a decision  will be made later this year.”

In Coldstream, expansion of Coldstream Meadows is moving ahead, while Tolko Industries has plans for a pellet plant in Lavington. Long-anticipated commercial development on Highway 6 and Aberdeen Road could also be proceeding.

There are about 300 properties for residential development in Coldstream, but that could only last for about 10 years.

“We’re almost at the limit of what Coldstream can build to,” said Mike Reiley, the municipality’s director of development, referring to much of the land base being on steep hills or in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Denser development may eventually have to be considered so growth can continue.

“We want to retain our rural character. Even if you live in a subdivision, you love to look over the green fields,” said Garlick.

All three jurisdictions are partnered to identify future land for industrial development to encourage employment opportunities.

“We have to work collaboratively,” said Sawatzky.

Parts of Coldstream could eventually include industrial activities.

“We’re being supportive of heavy industry and with light-industry, we’re looking at how to open those lands up,” said Garlick.

A similar view is also coming from Fairbairn.

“It’s important that we collectively get involved to make this a great community,” he said of the jurisdictions working together.