Kelowna city council won’t support a bid by the owner land in east Kelowna to extract gravel from the property in order to replace it with soil and create an orchard.
But council’s refusal to support the application to the provincial Agricultural Land Commission and the Ministry of Energy and Mines was not based on what the applicant wants to do. It was based on the “flawed” process being used by the ALC and ministry to do it.
Councillors expressed concern that they were being asked to support the plan before residents of the neighbourhood had been given a chance to give their input.
“This process is, in my opinion, is completely flawed…for residents and the applicant,” said Coun. Brad Sieben.
While several councillors conceded there is a need for aggregate, especially for road building, they said they also support creating more agricultural land in the city but want to listen to the concerns of their residents too. Close to 100 residents turned out at Monday’s council meeting to let councillors know by their presence they were opposed the plan.
“I don’t think there’s a councillor around this table who doesn’t support all three of these things,” said Coun. Maxine DeHart.
But when it came to the vote to go with a city staff recommendation to support the application and forward that support to the ALC, council was evenly split. The 4-4 result meant the motion was defeated, telling the ALC council does not support the plan.
It did agree, however, to send details of its lengthy discussion at the council meeting to both the commission and the ministry so they could see why council was so torn.
The biggest problem council appeared to have with the plan was being asked to support it before area residents were allowed to give their their input. They did, however, bombard councillors with their opposition prior to Monday’s meeting.
The applicant wants to remove up to 40,000 tonnes of sand and gravel from 2.8 hectares on the land in three phases and replace it with soil to create an orchard.
In supporting the motion telling the ALC Kelowna council was onboard, acting mayor Coun. Luke Stack said it was important to note a gravel pit was not being created. It was actually what he called a land reclamation project to create more agricultural land.
In response to a question from Stack, city staff said the application did not say any work other than extraction would be done on site.
The application called for the extraction to be done in three phases, each taking between one to two months to complete. After each phase work would be done to cover that portion of the site with the new soil and tree planting would start.
Residents of the area, upset they have not been consulted, gathered outside city hall prior to the Monday’s meeting and said they hoped their presence in council chambers would show council they were opposed. Neither residents nor the applicant were allowed to speak at the council meeting. But they made their presence known, applauding each councillor who opposed the application after they spoke.
Outside city hall, resident Josie Tuttosi said she and her neighbours had several concerns including the lack of consultation, increased truck traffic in their area, noise, dust, safety and the overall impact on their neighbourhood as well as on a local school nearby.
During the council discussion, it was made clear the final decision does not rest with council but rather the Ministry of Energy and Mines.
Coun. Gail Given, who moved the motion to support the plan, said the problem for the city was that it was being asked for a referral to the ALC (because the land is in the Agricultural Land Reserve) and the ALC, in turn, was being asked for a referral by the ministry.
She was joined in her support of the motion by Couns. Ryan Donn, Luke Stack and Tracy Gray. Couns. Charlie Hodge, Mohini Singh, Brad Sieben and Maxine Dehart voted against.
Mayor Colin Basran was not in attendance as he is out of the country visiting Kelowna’s sister city in Japan.
While council’s lack of support for the plan may not derail it—as the the ministry has yet to rule—Hodge said after the meeting that he felt a “no,” with details of the reasons why council was concerned, should speak loudly.