District off track

BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Resurgence of Kin Race Track into sports complex mix causes confusion

The wheels of bureaucracy not only turn slow, but they frequently veer off course.

Not surprisingly, Greater Vernon politicians are moving towards an $8.5 million referendum on a new sports complex, including a track and field. But what may have caught some off guard was the sudden pronouncement that there’s two locations deemed to be suitable.

Until recently, the only site in the running has been 5.8 hectares adjacent to the Okanagan College campus in Coldstream.

But now, Regional District of North Okanagan officials have trotted out Kin Race Track on 43rd Avenue.

“This site has a good location, being close to town and the Wesbild Centre, with plenty of parking potential,” states a staff report.

None of that can be disputed, but Kin Race Track wasn’t on the radar because of painfully protracted legal action between RDNO and the Okanagan Equestrian Society, which continues to insist it has a right to host races even though it was handed an eviction notice in 2010.

What has changed staff’s position and is there any link between this and closed door talks between the society, RDNO and O’Keefe Ranch (the scuttle is horse racing would move to the cash-strapped historic site as a way of bringing the court case to an end and freeing up Kin for other uses)?

Obviously there is nothing wrong with pursuing alternatives, particularly when public dollars are potentially involved.

But why would RDNO consider changing direction at the 11th hour when so much has already been invested in the Okanagan College property?

Years of discussions between the college and the regional district resulted in a 40-year lease agreement being hammered out in 2010.

A concept plan is already in place for the property, and RDNO, Coldstream and the college successfully lobbied the Agricultural Land Commission to allow a facility to be constructed there.

Not only would all of that hard work get sidelined if a new location is pursued, it’s likely the co-operative relationship between the regional district and Okanagan College would flounder.

It should also be pointed out that RDNO targeted the college for a sports complex partly because it had other designs for Kin Race Track if the eviction notice is held up by the courts.

A 2010 process called for the race track to be redeveloped with twin ice sheets, a gymnastics facility, four fastball diamonds, soccer fields, a concession, a mountain bike course and an open area for farmers’ markets and outdoor concerts.

If Kin Race Track evolves into a track and field facility, RDNO, rightly so, will be accused of providing false hope to those other groups striving to enhance local recreational amenities. They will have pretty pictures to look at but nothing tangible to address their long-term needs.

Garnering public consent to borrow $8.5 million is a challenge at any time and particularly during an economic downturn. But the situation isn’t going to be helped any if taxpayers see resources being wasted (trips to the ALC for land not being used and blueprints collecting dust). Groups fascinated by the original Kin Race Track concept could be left feeling alienated and take their frustration to the polls.

Before proceeding any further with referendum plans, RDNO needs to set the record straight. Is it committed to the college site? Why is Kin Race Track suddenly an option? And any discussions involving the track and O’Keefe Ranch need to be brought out into the open as they are both publicly owned properties.

If there isn’t more transparency, then residents will be left wondering what games are being played.

 

– richard@vernonmorningstar.com