What’s in a name? Plenty if you’re trying to decide what to call a new park in the Heritage Hills community south of Penticton.
Following a one-hour discussion that included duelling presentations, the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen on Thursday voted to name the space the Garnett Family Park against the wishes of community members.
The name was put forward by Heritage Hills developer John Aantjes in honour of his mentor, the late Ted Garnett, who helped Aantjes finance the development. Garnet was also one of the founders of Apex Mountain Resort and owned Pacific Rim Equipment prior to his death in 2018.
Community members argued in favour of naming the site Skaha Vista Park at Heritage Hills. Instead, a walking path that runs through the park will now be called the Skaha Vista Trail at Heritage Hills.
The park covers 4.2 acres and consists of a three-acre parcel, which is of limited use for building due to a retention pond, power lines and other encumbrances, donated by Aantjes in exchange for a tax receipt for $385,000, plus a 0.7-acre parcel purchased by the RDOS and a 0.2-hectare parcel leased by the RDOS.
A clause in the donation agreement, which was inked in 2015, states the RDOS and Antjes have to agree on the name.
In his presentation to the board Thursday, Aantjes said it was always his understanding Garnett would be honoured by the park name and, as a result, committed to Garnett that it would be so.
As a result, Aantjes said, he wouldn’t budge on it.
“If the community wants to be that involved in the naming process, I’d be happy to hand back my tax receipt,” said Aantjes.
Doug Lychak of the Heritage Hills Homeowners Association argued it’s a park for the community, and the community therefore ought to have a say on the name, which is why the group engaged in public consultation with residents to come up with its suggestion.
Lychak also noted the community has assembled approximately $1 million worth of grants to develop the park with playground equipment, lights, washrooms and more.
Furthermore, most community members hadn’t heard of Garnett, Lychak said, and would therefore find it an “affront” and “an insult” to name the park after him.
“We would rather have the park not named,” Lychak added.
A motion to go the no-name route was later put forward by RDOS Director Julius Bloomfield, also a Penticton city councillor, but it was defeated.
Speaking for the 11-8 majority that eventually went along with the Garnett name, RDOS Director and Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki suggested the board had to honour its deal with Aantjes.
“I feel sorry for the people up there not getting the name they wished, but a contract is a contract is a contract,” said Vassilaki, who also described Garnett as someone who “did a lot for the region.”
Earlier in his presentation, Lychak pointed out the battle over the park name had been in the making since the early 1990s, when the RDOS board of the day opted to take cash from the original developer in lieu of a required donation of park land.
Lychak said the homeowners’ group learned through a freedom of information request that the RDOS settled on a $44,000 cash payment at a time when lots in the development were selling for $100,000 or more.
“I find that incredible,” said Lychak, a former Surrey city manager. “I worked in local government for over 30 years and I never saw anything that egregious”
He also noted the RDOS signed an agreement – described by Lychak as a “get-out-of-jail-free letter” – that excused the developer from having to provide any park land in subsequent phases of the project.