A convoy of farm tractors made a special trip to Penticton city hall on Tuesday as members of the agricultural community sought to sow seeds of doubt in the minds of local politicians who may soon be asked to decide on a rezoning application to permit a 320-unit housing development on the Naramata Bench.
“We just wanted to send a clear message to everybody here at city hall that we don’t like this project,” organizer John Bilodeau told a crowd of about 100 people, including all seven members of city council.
“Do you think you got that message? Bilodeau asked Mayor John Vassilaki.
“Oh, absolutely,” replied the mayor, who minutes earlier assured the crowed he and council mates were interested in what protesters had to say.
Farmers who participated in the rally and convoy have a range of concerns about the project, mainly related to its potential environmental impact through the loss of natural area and an increase in traffic.
Josie Tyabji, another organizer and speaker, urged council to follow in the footsteps of other world-class wine regions like Napa and Tuscany and demand developers adhere to principles of smart growth.
“Their farm country is well-recognized as such and maintained as an important resource,” said Tyabji, who went on to note that doesn’t preclude development.
“It just means (development) is targeted and managed through solid process,” said Tyabji.
The process to redevelop the site at 1050 Spiller Rd. has been in the works since at least 2006, when Canadian Horizons purchased the 49-hectare swath of natural hillside immediately north of the Campbell Mountain Landfill at the foot of the Naramata Bench.
The site is already earmarked for growth in the current Official Community Plan, which was updated in 2019, and in the Spiller Road/Reservoir Road Area Neighbourhood Concept Plan, which was adopted by council in 2014.
However, the land is zoned for country residential, meaning the increased density sought by Canadian Horizons requires Penticton city council to approve a rezoning application the company expects to file this fall, according to vice-president Nathan Hildebrand.
“I think this tractor rally is a fun idea to help get the community’s attention and encourage engagement on things happening in Penticton. I am really glad to see people taking an interest in our proposal,” he said in a statement Tuesday ahead of the rally.
Besides noting the project is already permitted by two city plans, Hildebrand also suggested it would extend city services to a new part of the community, create 2,000 construction jobs over a 10-year build-out, preserve 30 hectares of natural area and create six kilometres of trails – adding up to a $100-million investment in Penticton.
“What we are proposing will enable every-day, hardworking people currently living in the city as well as future families to the city, an opportunity to live and afford a house and raise their families in this beautiful part of Penticton,” said Hildebrand.
Although still in its infancy, the plan unveiled this spring calls for mainly single-family homes, but also some apartments or townhouses. Approximately one-third of the site would be left in a natural state, most of it closest to the landfill.
New residents wouldn’t have to drive home past the dump, though, because Canadian Horizons has proposed building a new main access off another property it owns at 850 Naramata Rd. across from Red Rooster Winery.