Residents wanting to preserve the Commonage may not be able to block development.
Numerous speakers demanded Monday that Vernon council deny a development variance permit application for 242 hectares near Chum Road. But even if that occurs, the residents were warned the city can’t legally stop subdivision by the land owner.
“If denied, they can come back and subdivide if they meet the requirements of the bylaw,” said Leon Gous, chief administrative officer, adding that if the project doesn’t deviate from present zoning, there is no requirement for public input on any development.
“We don’t have a lot of discretion to say we just don’t like it.”
The area was annexed into Vernon in 1993 and the zoning that allows for subdivision originated with the regional district.
The only way land use designation under Vernon’s official community plan could be considered is if the property owner sought rezoning.
The land owner, Bob Armstrong, is proposing a 28-lot subdivision and he is seeking a development variance permit so he can create one 80.9-hectare lot. A variance is needed because the lot would exceed minimum lot size.
“This is the end of the Commonage,” said resident Victor Cumming, who opposes subdivision.
Cumming is concerned that Armstrong’s project will lead to other development, which will threaten natural habitats and Vernon’s lifestyle.
“You will have made the decision the Commonage is to be urban,” he told council.
Resident Linda Kennedy spoke of the wildlife in the Commonage.
“There is a minimum of four lovely ponds with riparian areas. Some of the grasslands have never been over-grazed. Grasslands are crucial to a lot of species,” she said.
Some speakers questioned the process followed by city staff.
“I have no idea of how this development got this far,” said Dave Smith, with the Ribbons of Green Trails Society.
The crowd was informed that once a property owner makes an application to the city, staff is legally bound to initiate a process that will determine if the application is accepted by council.
Ultimately, council deferred the development variance permit application for a month so it can consider the matter further.
At least one resident wants to make use of the time to try and purchase the land for park.
“You have to talk to him (Armstrong) and make some sense,” Sharon Lawrence told council.
Armstrong says he wants to keep the land.
“Nobody could buy it. I’m interested in keeping it and my family playing on it,” he said.
David Cullen, an engineer working for Armstrong, says the variance for one large lot is being sought to protect environmental and agricultural aspects of the site.
“A conventional development is not in the best interest of the land,” he said.
That view is supported by city staff.
“It (variance) would preserve the integrity of the ALR areas and a large environmentally sensitive area by having those areas in one large lot,” said planner Dale Rintoul.
If the variance permit is denied by council, Cullen says subdivision will still proceed.
“We will go back to a conventional layout,” he said.