With a proper management plan for the Three Blind Mice area at least a decade away, city council voted narrowly Tuesday to impose greater oversight on trail development in the popular recreation spot.
Much of the work to date has been undertaken by the Penticton and Area Cycling Association, which has had a licence to use the 134 hectares of city land there since 2013.
Public works manager Len Robson said the licence agreement, which requires city staff to approve any new projects, has worked well.
But, in response to concerns from neighbours on Riddle Road, he nonetheless recommended council add some safeguards to protect what he described as a “stunningly beautiful” property.
“The challenge that we have as staff who look at what they want to do is how do I know whether that trail they want to build is going to seriously affect something that’s environmentally sensitive?” said Robson.
“We have done no homework up there…. There’s not really much in place for staff to make sure we’re making the right long-term decision on that property.”
Council voted 4-3 to go along with Robson’s recommendation, with Julius Bloomfield, Judy Sentes and Campbell Watt opposed.
Watt suggested new regulatory requirements would place an undue burden on the non-profit, volunteer-led PACA, which has “proven itself very worthy of what they’re doing, including doing it without funding.”
On the other side of the debate, Coun. Katie Robinson argued the added safeguards, such as identifying environmentally sensitive no-go zones and outlining requirements for public consultation, would protect Three Blind Mice for the public at large.
“With all due respect to PACA – and they’ve been doing a fantastic job, I have no problem with that whatsoever – we represent all the citizens in this town, not just one group,” she said.
PACA wrote to council in advance of the meeting to argue against the additional oversight.
The letter explains how the larger, 1,600-hectare Crown land portion of Three Blind Mice on which PACA has tenure is regulated by the province through strict planning and reporting obligations, plus adherence to international standards for trail building and maintenance.
“Our only concern with what is being presented (to council) lies with the potential of increased red tape beyond what is required by even the province,” says PACA.
“We are respectfully requesting that the city allows us to continue or work, at the same high standards we’ve have always maintained, by meeting the provincial standards with no additional layers of municipal bureaucracy added.”
It’s unclear, however, if the city even has the power to unilaterally amend PACA’s licence.
Finance manager Jim Bauer noted the agreement doesn’t have a clause allowing the city to make such changes, so, generally speaking, both parties would have to agree.
The deal does, however, contain a clause that allows the city to cancel the licence on 60 days’ notice, which Robson suggested could be the mechanism by which the deal is amended.
In addition to the new regulatory requirements for PACA and the Penticton Disc Golf Club, which also has a licence for Three Blind Mice, council also voted in favour of beginning the process of rezoning the area from forestry-grazing to park, which would match its designation in the Official Community Plan, and considering how to fund the estimated $100,000 cost of the master plan, which Robson said could take 10 years to complete.