A public hearing last week into the proposed O’Rourke winery development generated support and opposition along with response to disparaging remarks about Albertans coming to Lake Country.
The council chambers were packed for the meeting, with the pro and con arguments about the ambitious development centred around support for a pro-agriculture initiative against opposition to a large-scale development believed to not fit the rural atmosphere and landscape of Carr’s Landing.
The purpose of the public hearing was for amendments to the zoning bylaw and Official Community Plan designation for the 12 rural properties, bordered along Carr’s Landing Road and Commonage Road totalling 50 hectares in size, acquired by winery proponent Dennis O’Rourke to develop a vineyard and winery.
The Albertan aspect to the debate was brought up by the first speaker, Tom O’Rourke, the son of the winery and vineyard proponent, who is chairman of the Sureway Construction firm he founded in 1973, one of the leading construction contractors in Western Canada based out of Edmonton.
O’Rourke said he was disappointed by remarks he has heard about his father, and about Albertans in general, relating to this project by local residents “who know little or nothing about what we are trying to do.”
Saying the project seems to have become a lightning rod for animosity in the Carr’s Landing community, O’Rourke urged councillors to listen to the information provided about his father’s vision and not just uninformed residents “who might have your ear.”
O’Rourke said while Albertans may have secondary homes in Lake Country, it shouldn’t be held against them, because of success somewhere else they choose to spend time living in Lake Country.
“They pay a lot of taxes and virtually have no voting rights in Lake Country,” he said.
O’Rourke said his father is in the midst of creating a $50 million development, turning what was pine beetle devastated forest into a vineyard, winery and other potential tourism attraction related enterprises.
He noted that his father has also donated to numerous charitable enterprises since he first arrived in Lake Country in 1979, including a commitment to fund completion of a one kilometre stretch of the Okanagan Rail Trail.
Michael Leitch, the project manager, added the elder O’Rourke only does development one way—first class.
“His goal is to build everything to a highest level. He only does things one way,” Leitch said.
“We recognize the strong agricultural roots (of Carr’s Landing) and we want to preserve and enhance that. This winery (and vineyard) will be world class when it is completed.”
Those speaking against the project cited the environmental impact already from the current project construction, the potential overwhelming scope of the winery against a rural atmosphere setting and concerns about increased traffic along Commonage and Carr’s Landing roads.
Stuart Barrow said his Commonage Road property is located adjacent to the planned access into the O’Rourke property, which he said will have a devastating impact for him and other immediate neighbours.
“There will be an intrusion in our lives and privacy with regards to higher traffic volumes along with added driveway entrance lighting, illuminated signage and electronic controlled gates. And allowing more public access to a wooded area raises concerns about the need for fire suppression measures that hasn’t been mentioned yet,” Barrow said.
Wendy Monteith, a property owner adjacent to the O’Rourke property vineyards, said the development has already given way to permanent environmental destruction at the expense of wildlife habitat.
“Yes, there was beetle kill on the site, but that has been going on for hundreds of years, and even dead trees (play a role for wildlife) in our world,” Monteith explained.
“Hawks, eagles, coyotes, deer and many amphibians have been permanently displaced by this (land use) application before you.”
Monteith also raised concerns about the quality of her home well-provided domestic water supply, a reference to the drilling and blasting of granite rock that has already been carried out on the O’Rourke property to create 300 metres of winding tunnels and 12,000 square-feet of cave space, almost 11 metres in height, to store wine barrels.
“I have had so much calcium in my water for the last year and a half, my appliances and my water pipes are eroding way before their expiry date. After 27 years of having perfect drinking water from a well drilled 400 feet into the ground, I can no longer leave a washed glass or dish to sit and dry.
“Everything is covered in a white sediment when it dries. My fear of suddenly running out of water is a daily thing now for me.”
Speaking in support of the project, Laura Geen, who with her husband David Geen own Coral Beach Farms in Carr’s Landing, said a project that endorses agricultural use of land should have council’s support.
“I have never met the O’Rourkes but I applaud them for having the courage and vision to invest in agriculture in this valley,” Geen said.
“The hillside they are transforming into a vineyard was beetle-killed timber, a wildlife hazard and an eyesore. It will be a beautiful addition to our valley just as Gray Monk and 50th Parallel and other wineries have been.”
Jody Lafontaine, a Carr’s Landing resident for 44 years, said while she understands the concerns of people who are immediate neighbours to the project site, the best interests of the greater community should take precedence.
“This is someone who is taking a bold step, who is putting land back into agricultural use,” Lafontaine said.
“It would be wonderful if everyone could come here and enjoy the sweet life, but the world is not like that. Unfortunately, we have to look to the future, to protect our agricultural property, to protect our way of life. To not accept this grand vision the O’Rourkes are proposing would be turning our backs on a wonderful opportunity.”
Lafontaine also referenced the anti-Alberta sentiment, saying: “We all come from someplace else. I came from Toronto, with all my artsy fartsy attitudes. But residents of this community became accustomed to me and I became accustomed to all of you.”
Lance Marshall, descendent of a pioneer Okanagan family dating back to the 1800s and long-time Carr’s Landing property owner, said he never thought the day would come when people were arguing over the merits of an agriculture-based development in Lake Country.
“This project is a poster child for positive land zoning change…and should be viewed as something frankly that is a slam dunk,” Marshall said.
“I don’t know much about drainage and transportation but I will let the professionals deal with that. That’s what they’re trained to do.
“But I know agriculture. I know Carr’s Landing. I know Lake Country. And this is all pretty darn positive.”
Jerome Wowchuk, owner of the Blind Tiger winery in Lake Country, echoed the sentiments of Marshall and other speakers, saying the O’Rourke proposal is great for the local wine industry, for agriculture development and for sustainable economic growth that will create employment.
“This will be a landmark development. For people with $5 million houses, after this project is completed those houses will be worth $10 million,” he said.
Oyama orchardist Allan Gatzke added that any addition to the agriculture community in Lake Country is “not cutting the pie into smaller pieces, but making the pie bigger.”