Past history lesson, according to Vernon Coun. Brian Quiring: when the city did the planning for the original Vernon multi-use facility that is now Kal Tire Place 30 years ago, it was communicated to the public that the facility would become a sports recreational precinct.
Recent history lesson, according to Vernon Coun. Kelly Fehr: the City of Vernon never discussed turning the Kin Race Track lands into a sports park before seeking public input.
By a margin of 5-1, with Fehr opposed and sports field proponent Coun. Akbal Mund absent, Vernon council voted Monday, Feb. 14, in favour of a staff recommendation to support a revised process and timeline for the development of the Kin Race Track Athletic Park.
At its regular meeting on Jan. 24, council was presented with a pair of options for the site that included affordable housing and turning the facility into a passive park, similar to Polson Park. Neither design contained any such sports fields.
The affordable housing component was removed by a 4-3 vote of council, and staff was directed after a 90-minute discussion to include in a revamped design a wetland area trail network (which was in original plan), a third ice sheet at Kal Tire Place plus an outdoor skating rink, two artificial turf playing fields, a skate park, domed 100,000 square foot field house, outdoor sports courts and two baseball diamonds.
Quiring said council dropped the ball in its original message to staff about its desires for the former race track.
“We made a mistake letting this go the way it went. I must have been asleep at the wheel as I never expected it to be anything but a sports park,” he said. “…We as a council dropped the ball. This park is what the community wanted 30 years ago. We fought hard to get the (Kin Race Track) property. If we want public engagement, let’s ask athletic park or passive park. Maybe the community has changed its mind. The people I’ve been speaking with haven’t.”
It’s the public engagement portion that stirred a healthy debate on Valentine’s Day. It was Fehr who reminded his colleagues that public engagement on the site was pursued and direction was given to staff as a result.
“A very healthy number of residents in Vernon responded to that public input, but at the January 24th council meeting, this council disregarded the public input for the most part and made arbitrary decisions that went against our process and the public’s will,” said Fehr, who also said there was never any discussions with recreation services about the Kin Race Track site. Only parks services.
Mayor Victor Cumming said a lot has happened since Kal Tire Place was built.
A field has been built at Okanagan College, known as Greater Vernon Athletic Park, which currently holds one turf field and a walking/running track. And Marshall Field has been developed to include a number of soccer fields, baseball diamonds, tennis courts, indoor soccer facility and covered pickleball courts.
“We didn’t have those facilities 30 years ago,” said Cumming. “I still don’t have an answer for Kin Race Track.”
Coun. Kari Gares said Vernon is still short on sports fields, and council has a real opportunity in its hand for a multi-use facility at the historic 43rd Avenue location. She spoke passionately about families having a chance to have their kids in one location instead of different sports venues at different parts of the city.
“That’s what we can offer (with a multi-use sports park),” said Gares. “We’re enhancing what we have. It’s strategic. It will take time but that’s the vision. I always envisioned Kin Race Track as recreation, sports. We did not do a very good job of clarifying that.”
With that, council voted in favour of the staff recommendation of a new timeline that includes determining if all of council wishes can fit into the site, which will be presented at the Feb. 28 council meeting. A concept option development will be done by April 15 and presented to council for the consideration of public engagement at its regular meeting April 25.
The public can review the plan and comment in May, and the final concept will be presented to council for consideration and endorsement June 13.