BEYOND THE HEADLINES: A municipal issue too

There is the perception that plans for an amphitheatre in Coldstream are moving ahead no matter what

There is the perception that plans for an amphitheatre in Coldstream are moving ahead no matter what.

And that view wasn’t helped when Diane Bond, with the Okanagan Summer Festival Society, was asked last week if there had been further discussions with Coldstream council about an outdoor theatre at Okanagan College. She replied that there hadn’t and then added that, “Land use is a provincial issue.”

I assume that comment is based on the fact that colleges fall under the umbrella of the provincial government’s Ministry of Advanced Education.

District officials also aren’t sure what role, if any, they may play in authorizing or denying development of the amphitheatre.

“We don’t have the ability to regulate a senior level of government,” Mike Reiley, Coldstream’s director of development services, told council April 25.

In an e-mail Tuesday, Trevor Seibel, chief administrative officer, stated: “There are special rules that govern the applicability of local land use regulations to provincial Crown lands and to the Crown as a user of land. The initial assessment would indicate that the land use may be exempt from local bylaws. However, this has not yet been confirmed.”

Obviously loopholes may exist for senior government when it comes to land they own, but they should have to follow  the same rules as any other land owner. Such an end-run around the rules would simply reinforce public cynicism about government.

Ultimately what should matter is a municipality’s zoning bylaws and official community plan, especially because significant effort goes into these documents to ensure that broad community interests are reflected.

Now that doesn’t mean that development stagnates. If the property owner seeks a variance to zoning or the OCP, there is a formal process for that, including seeking public input. Variances are approved all of the time.

It should be pointed out that when a municipal council makes a decision on land use, its responsibilities are mandated by the provincial government, the very same body that apparently can do what ever it wants.

People being people, municipal councils aren’t perfect and they make mistakes. But the one thing they have going over Victoria bureaucrats is they are actually on the ground.

In the case of the amphitheatre, Coldstream’s politicians know the lay of the land at the college and have first-hand knowledge about noise migrating across Kalamalka Lake or traffic congestion. They also understand the need to diversify the economy and provide new amenities.

It should be up to them to embrace the growing opposition to the project or to find a compromise that allows the theatre to proceed.

If Bond is correct and land use is a provincial issue, the worst case scenario would be Victoria rubber-stamping the amphitheatre and casting aside the roles and responsibilities of the duly elected council.

I can almost guarantee that a potential abuse of power would set off a fire storm, and that could be a challenging situation for the Liberals and MLA Eric Foster as they head into an election next spring.