Downtown revitalization dominates West Kelowna forum

Last chance for council and mayoral candidates to sway voters their way was all-candidates forum on Wednesday.

They may all be running for the same six seats on West Kelowna council but the five incumbent councillors and the eight challengers seem to agree on one thing — downtown Westbank needs to be revitalized. And sooner rather than later.

That was the clear indication when the candidates met Wednesday for one last time at an all-candidates forum prior to tomorrow’s civic election. The forum, hosted by the Westside Residents’ and Business Association, asked the councillor candidates, as well as the two candidates running for mayor, incumbent Doug Findlater and challenger Rosalind Neis, an incumbent councillor and former mayor, to talk about one of the 14 master plans the district is currently working on or how they would help boost the municipal economy.

Twelve of the 13 candidates on hand choose to talk about their favourite master plan, with the Official Community Plan proving the most popular.

Other plans mentioned included the Westbank town centre plan, the waterfront plan, the roads plan and the parks and recreation plan. Several candidates, including Findlater, David Knowles and Duane Ophus, said it is key to get more people living in the Westbank area as that will help attract business to a part of the municipality that is seen as losing business to the nearby Westbank First Nation lands.

But while some see the WFN as a competitor, others, like Rusty Ensign, see the municipality and the WFN as complimenting each other rather than competing. “We need a partnership with the WFN,” said Ensign. “They don’t want to see a weak partner.”

Gord Milsom, another incumbent running for re-election said he feels downtown Westbank needs to change if it is to be successful at attracting development. And one of the biggest changes will be to getting rid of the Highway 97 couplet through Westbank in favour of one, four-lane highway using the existing Dobbin Road.

That would return the current southbound Main Street to a municipal road that could become the heart of downtown Westbank. Incumbent Bryden Winsby, who talked about the roads master plan in his presentation, said there are many roads that need attention in the district and the work needed will cost millions of dollars. With the province ending its transition funding for road maintenance in early 2013, roads will become a major issue for taxpayers and some tough decisions will have to be made about where money should be directed first.

“(In the first four years of incorporation) we’ve come a long way but we have a long way to go,” said Winsby talking about what the current council has achieved.

Neis focussed her comments on the district’s waterfront plan noting $139,000 has been spent on it and while there are long-term goals, there are several areas where immediate action can be taken to help generate economic development, especially in the Gellatly Bay area.

“This is the plan that will give us the most bang for our buck,” she said. But time and time again,the discussion moved back to downtown Westbank and the need to generate economic development there to create a town centre for the district.

One of the key priorities, according to several candidates, is that pressure be put on the province to fund the proposed new health centre in Westbank, as that is seen a key to making the area more attractive people who may want to live there.

“We need to get moving on that,” said Michael Trenn. The health centre has been stalled Interior Health saying it has other projects that are of a higher priority for funding.

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