West Kelowna district council made a controversial decision Tuesday to take the next step toward allowing an expansion to Mission Hill Family Estate Winery.
The third reading for three proposed bylaw amendments, which will make it possible for the expansion to occur, passed with five members of council in favour, while Couns. Rosalind Neis and Bryden Winsby were opposed.
The expansion will add a hotel, restaurant, wellness centre, conference centre, art gallery, wine museum, guest cottages and microbrewery to Mission Hill’s property.
A public hearing was held on June 23, when 38 presentations were made.
Of those presentations, 71 per cent spoke against the proposed expansion.
Since then, the District of West Kelowna staff has received 64 letters, 78 per cent of which were not in favour of the expansion.
Although the public’s concerns covered a wide variety of topics, the biggest concern was traffic.
At the June 23 public hearing, lawyer Tom Smithwick told West Kelowna council: “I would say 90 per cent would support it if there was an alternate route.”
Two potential alternate access locations were reviewed. The first proposed was from Boucherie Road (directly up the face of Mount Boucherie). However, it was dismissed as both technically unfeasible and environmentally undesirable.
A second road location extending from East Boundary Road was considered, but the Westbank First Nation band council did not support the proposal due to their site-specific infrastructure/servicing needs.
But, even though an alternate route was not found, West Kelowna council decided that the winery expansion’s overall benefits outweighed the negatives.
“This development is very much in the interest of the well being of our whole community,” said West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater.
“This is a difficult decision, but when you stand back and look at the proposal, it’s a high quality development, it is sustainable. It enhances our new municipality in so many ways overall.”
Coun. Duane Ophus’ comments mirrored those of the mayor.
“We have a duty to all of the citizens of the community. Most communities do their very best, and spend a lot of money, to try and attract a project like this,” Ophus said.
“We’ve been offered this project. We cannot turn our back on it at this point in time.”
Many councillors admitted the decision was difficult, but the estimated 400 jobs that the project will supply is too significant to ignore.
“I’m very reluctant because I see a lot of loose ends,” said Coun. Carol Zanon.
“But I think we have to send a signal to our business community and this is it.
“We definitely need to raise our tax base and we need jobs. The economy is not doing very well and there’s not going to be much growth in the next two to five years.”
Zanon assured council she will “be like a hawk” watching over the construction management plan and regulation enforcement.
Winsby and Neis said that there were too many problems with the proposal at this time, and because of that neither could support the expansion.
“I feel that this project is premature. I think it’s very inspired, but at the same time, I believe it’s going to add to problems that we’re going to have even more difficulty solving as time goes by,” said Winsby.
“There is a rush here. I understand that delays are expensive, but at the same time, I think we’re going to see increasing urban pressure on rural infrastructure.”
Winsby said he was also concerned about the traffic that would increase on Boucherie Road.
Although the road is not connected directly to the winery, Winsby noted it does connect to Mission Hill Road so it will inevitably see an increased traffic flow caused by the winery expansion.
Neis felt the expansion will significantly harm those who live in the Mission Hill neighbourhood.
“There’s nothing in this construction management program, that I can see, that will do anything to guarantee any of the requirements of the requests that the members of the public asked of us at the public hearing,” she said.
“There’s still work that has to be done with this.”