Revelstoke's history shows us how to deal with development proposals

To the Editor:
Although I am not a business owner I have been following the discussions on the proposed highway development with interest, fully expecting that City Council would come to the correct decision. Apparently I am to be disappointed. Council is making a mistake. The primary mistake is not listening to what the citizenry is telling Council. I’m not referring strictly to the public hearings, although they were clear enough in their opposition. I’m referring to input from the public over many years. Some history might be instructive.
Thirty years ago Revelstoke was in serious trouble. The mine had closed, the mega-projects (Trans-Canada Highway, Mica and Revelstoke Dams, the CPR Mt. Macdonald Tunnel) were over, the Downie Street Mill was closed (again) and the Co-op shopping centre was on its last legs as people flocked to the shiny new Copper’s grocery store / shopping centre. A group of concerned citizens, experts and yes, consultants, sat at the table in the Council chambers in an attempt to develop a new sustainable strategic direction for the community. After examining the community’s strengths and weaknesses it was determined that pursuing the relatively stable and long term tourist dollar would best suit our needs and capabilities. Out of this decision came the downtown revitalization program, in which community leaders encouraged downtown businesses to invest in their properties in conjunction with the city upgrades. Through provincial loans administered by the City, local businesses changed the face of downtown Revelstoke, repaying the loans through a surcharge on their property taxes over ten or twelve years.
Twenty-five years ago, the Advisory Planning Commission and the city revised the Official Community Plan. The OCP is the document (mandated by the provincial Municipalities Act) that defines how development will be guided through the zoning by-law to allow the community to manage growth. It’s what prevents developers from building a gravel pit in Downtown Revelstoke – an extreme example (although this Council might say ‘oooh they’re going to spend ten million dollars – we better let them do it), but you get the picture – we don’t allow developers to do whatever they want, we lay out in the OCP how we want development in our community to proceed. Change is a good thing, but managing change for the good of the community is essential.
Two areas of special concern were addressed at the time: the Trans-Canada corridor and the Eastern Access/old Co-op lands area. Taking public input seriously helped Council come to the conclusion that allowing downtown core-like businesses in these areas would negatively affect the community; therefore only specific uses were permitted. When the Hudson’s Bay Company expressed interest in building a strip mall in the Eastern Access area, Council had the wisdom to say no, our development plan does not include that kind of project. This is the very essence of governance – not blindly supporting development at any cost, not blocking development arbitrarily, but guiding development for the good of the whole community.
So, are there good reasons for saying no thank-you to this project? Emphatically, yes.

  • First, there is the obvious damage to our now vibrant downtown business sector.
  • Second, the wasting of years of planning and millions of dollars in provincial, city, and business investment to develop the community to support the tourism strategy.
  • Third, the vastly increased mess at the Trans-Canada highway intersection.
  • Fourth, the squandering of our lengthy and carefully developed community character capital. Our community character is what makes us unique and makes people want to visit here. There are thousands of examples of communities that have squandered their capital right across this country. When you drive across Canada on the Trans-Canada highway, every community you go through looks the same: strips of big box stores and chain outlets sprinkled with fast food establishments. Regina, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Sault St. Marie, Sudbury – same highway look, same boarded up downtown business section. Ask the next tourist you see walking downtown and they will tell you that what they enjoy and value about Revelstoke is that it is not the same – it has character.
  • Fifth, ignoring of the opinion of the citizenry, both now, in public meetings, and over the past thirty years in planning and setting in place growth objectives for our community.

This Council seems to be fond of claiming to have been elected to be ‘pro-development’. Sorry guys – not true. None of you ran on a platform of ‘development at any cost,’ and no one who did not get elected ran on a ‘no development’ platform. You could legitimately say you were elected with an expectation that a more pro-business attitude would be evident, but how is it pro business to follow policies that will gut our downtown business sector?
Those who are in favour of this project tout the twenty million dollar capital cost of the construction and the economic activity that will create. There is some truth to that, but we must remember that it has a short term effect. There is a three quarters of a billion dollar dam project on our doorstep – it provided plenty of economic activity in its time – how’s that working for us now? We developed a tourism strategy to get away from the hit and miss, boom and bust reliance upon one-off capital projects. The argument in favour of the project also refers to the property tax revenue that will be generated by the completed development. Great, but even if it materializes will it be enough to replace the tax revenue lost as local downtown businesses fail? Remember all the talk about the incredible tax revenue we would get from the ski hill development? I wonder where that went or when it will begin.
With so many negatives and so few and ephemeral positives, I have to conclude that there must be some other reason that some of Council think this is a good idea. If so please tell us so we can understand how it is that you can consider going against the advice of your citizens and experts in community development. Otherwise, start thinking constructively about some better options. Maybe the city could broker a land swap for some of the old Mountain View school land so that a development that fits with the community’s objectives could be undertaken (thus solving the main problem – that the land owner just wants to sell his property).
I think we all understand how difficult it is for Council to balance all of the factors that each decision brings, and we know that Councillors are working hard but please, Councillors, take another look at this issue and make a decision that benefits the whole community and continues to bring change in keeping with Revelstoke’s strategic objectives.
Jim Cook
Revelstoke, BC