BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Competing demands

Vernon politicians' debate over a proposal to turn a chunk of designated farm land into houses

Unfortunately the world isn’t black and white. Somewhere in the middle is grey.

A good example of this is the recent debate among Vernon politicians over a proposal to turn a chunk of designated farm land into houses.

Coun. Juliette Cunningham was visibly upset as a majority of her colleagues agreed to send an exclusion application to the Agricultural Land Commission for 3.8 hectares at Pottery Road and 15th Street.

“I’m discouraged we are not considering the preservation of farm land,” she said.

“When you look at climate change, there’s the possibility of growing and doing other things on that property.”

And Cunningham is right to ring alarm bells.

After all, there is very little agricultural land left in the Okanagan compared to even 20 years ago, and with every additional piece that disappears, local communities lose the ability to feed themselves. We become reliant on food from California, Asia and elsewhere.

Also gone are the economic opportunities that agriculture can provide to a region where jobs are scarce, particularly if value-added products are pursued.

And there is the reality that climate change is happening and a piece of land that isn’t currently productive may play a key role in sustainability in years to come.

Cunningham accused the rest of council of being short-sighted.

“It opens the door for everyone to come and do the same thing,” she said.

However, as correct as Cunningham is, there is validity to the other side of the issue.

Some of her colleagues made the case that while there is a surplus of residential building lots in Vernon, most of them are for high-priced homes, and the property on 15th Street would be for more modest incomes.

“It’s a natural progression of the community. It’s smart growth,” said Coun. Brian Quiring pointing out that the land is within a short distance of schools and stores and city services, such as water and sewer, are right at the property line.

There’s a lot of talk about trying to attract young families to Vernon, but if all that’s available is housing for retirees or those with a few extra bucks in their pocket, they will bypass the city.

There is also the case that in my almost 26 years here, I don’t ever remember any crops on the property or even cattle grazing. It’s largely overgrown and election signs sprout on the corner every time we head to the polls.

The most contentious statement during the political debate came from Coun. Scott Anderson, who countered city staff’s recommendation not to forward the application to the ALC.

“The official community plan is a guide more than something chiselled in granite,” he said.

Yes, considerable public input went into crafting the OCP and establishing a vision for the community. But while those principles shouldn’t be abandoned, OCPs are not intended to stall development. They are living documents that reflect changing needs in a community and property owners have the right to pursue different uses.

In the end, the discussion over a piece of property demonstrates the competing demands elected officials must contend with.

 

For every decision made, there will be winners and losers and only time will demonstrate if they made the right choice.