BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Get in the game

It’s unfortunate that fingers are being pointed after the Agricultural Land Commission shot down plans for a Greater Vernon sports complex.

The ALC claims the Greater Vernon Advisory Committee, which is responsible for parks and recreation, was not part of the application for non-farm status for the land next to Okanagan College.

Vernon Mayor Wayne Lippert was quick to blame one of the partners for the situation.

“Coldstream was clear it wanted to handle the matter and keep everyone at arm’s length,” he said.

Now that’s a bit of an exaggeration given that it was the North Okanagan Regional District, GVAC’s parent body, that hammered out  an agreement to lease the land from Okanagan College.

Al McNiven, NORD’s parks and recreation manager, was also the point man in putting the lease together, developing the sports complex design and bringing the various stakeholders, including sports groups, to the table.

When plans for the complex were announced in November, NORD chairman Herman Halvorson presided over the proceedings, while the BX directors were also present to lend their support.

In fact, all jurisdictions were represented except for Vernon. Lippert claimed his invitation was misplaced.

As soon as the plans were unveiled, Lippert went out of his way to poke holes at the lease with Okanagan College although NORD — of which Vernon is the largest player at the table — had been working on the deal for years. It should also be pointed out that Lippert is chairperson of GVAC so he should have known what was going on.

Now in terms of the actual non-farm status application to the ALC, Coldstream and Okanagan College carried the ball and that made complete sense.

After all, the college is the owner of the site while the ALC process requires applications to be forwarded from the local jurisdiction. In this case, that’s Coldstream, which would also be responsible for rezoning and any other land use issues.

In radio reports, Lippert has slammed Coldstream for apparently not asking Vernon to meet with ALC officials when they were touring the college site. But Jim Garlick, Coldstream mayor, has a different interpretation of events.

“Our invitation to attend the ALC site meeting came from  John Lent (OC dean)  to provide comment as the local jurisdiction responsible for the land in question,” said Garlick.

“I had asked John Lent if he wanted me and staff present and requested he contact me if he did. Wayne Lippert could have done the same if he truly had an interest in seeing it succeed. If it had not been for Coldstream’s interest and persistence, this project would have been dead long ago. Our role in heading up this project is more by default than request.”

Despite the ALC’s ruling, there is still a definite need for a regulation-sized track and other amenities to bolster the economy, long-term growth of the college and local athletes of all ages.

That means going  back to the drawing board and making the case that this field of weeds is the ideal location for a sports complex and changing the status does not undermine the integrity of the agricultural land base.

However, convincing the ALC to accept Greater Vernon’s vision is going to be increasingly challenging if one of the partners continues to play games.

Richard Rolke is the senior reporter for The Morning Star