In Video: The last City Council meeting of 2016 — it’s a doozy

The City Council Chamber’s public gallery was filled to over-flowing on Tuesday, December 20, as citizens flocked to watch — and participate in — seven public hearings. I counted 40 people in attendance, 25 of whom you can see — in whole or in part — in this image. Dozens waited in the hall for their chance to voice opinions regarding the applications they were interested in. David F. Rooney photo

By David F. Rooney

City Council Chamber’s public gallery was filled to over-flowing on Tuesday, December 20, as citizens flocked to watch — and participate in — seven public hearings. I counted 40 people in attendance. Over 25 were jammed into the gallery behind City staff and the news media; the rest waited in the hall for their chance to voice opinions regarding the applications they were interested in. (Please click here to access all Internet-available information regarding the public hearings and the subsequent Council meeting.)

The first application, which occupied the entire first hour of the five-hour combined public hearings and Council meeting, concerned an application to rezone property owned by John and Alison Lapshinoff at 378 Highway 23 North from Single and Two Family Residential (R2) to Rural Residential (R1), which would permit them to operate a small farm with up to 50 fowl (no roosters) and a small herd of up to 12 goats, sheep or pigs

Their application excited a lot of comment — both pro and con. The Council agenda package contained a 15 individual letters of support for the Lapshinofffs’ application and only three letters of objection. However, it also included a petition signed by 12 individuals. Most of the negative comments reflected fears about noise and smells from the animals, feared depredations by bears and other predators and a consequent decrease in property values.

“We want to encourage citizens to connect with their food, grow their own and teach their kids about where their food comes from and to not lose the food culture that once made our city rich in agricultural knowledge,” wrote Nadja Luckau, president of the Revelstoke Local Food Initiative, in a fairly representative letter of support. “Province-wide we are seeing increasing pressures to convert productive farmland into development lands. This rezoning request is the direct opposite of that trend and should be encouraged in the current climate of food insecurity.”

Farm rezoning application was controversial

Alison said after the meeting that the small number of animals she and her husband are considering, as well as the distance from the areas where the animals will be on the farm property, make concerns about odours and noise unlikely to come true. She also said the farm would be fenced off to prevent predators’ potential incursions.This Council, it should be noted, has proven itself to be receptive to arguments made by proponents of the local food security movement. Council voted voted 4 – 1 (Gary Sulz, Aaron Orlando, Linda Nixon and Connie Brothers versus Mayor Matk McKee) to approve the application — a move that was not universally popular. (Please activate the YouTube player for Part 1, below, to watch this public hearing. It is concluded during the first 10 minutes of the Part 2 video.)

“I’m writing today to express my deep disappointment at the decision made by council yesterday to allow the farm to go ahead on Highway 23 North,” said Doug Meyer in a letter to Council that he shared with The Current. “Despite a clear message from the members of our neighbourhood, you four supported the rezoning application. Shame on you. The wishes of the people that live in the neighbourhood should have more weight than the opinions of people that do not live in the neighbourhood. Clearly you don’t care about our concerns at all. Shame on all four of you. You will not get my vote in the next election.”

The other six public hearings were also well attended. (Please click here to view the afternoon’s agenda, which contains instantly accessible Internet links to all relevant documents, reports and comments.)

The next hearing was a replay of Steven and Atsuko Knight’s application for a vacation rental licence at 1780 Illecillewaet Road. The Knights’ application had previously been denied but Mayor Mark McKee said he had decided to bring it back to the Council table because he believed they deserved a second hearing. This time, there was no opposition to their application and Council passed it unanimously.

Simon Davis’ application for a vacation rental licence for 1535 Birch Drive was not so lucky. Written and oral objections by several neighbours convinced Council to deny his application by a vote of 5-0.

Tara Kelly’s application for a vacation rental at 1918 Aspen Court was also denied after Council heard the testimony of neighbours that it was “a royal pain in the ass” and that the area might end up with far more vacation rentals than necessary. (You can watch that hearing beginning at the 21-minute mark on Video 2 below.)

Residents’ deplore the seeming growth of vacation rentals

“lf this application goes along with the application for Vacation Rental Zoning for 1921 Aspen Crescent on January 17, 2017, there will be six vacation rental houses within a block and a half of our home,” Nikki and Gilles Lussier said in a letter to Council.

“These houses are 1906, 1912, 1921 Aspen Crescent and 1815 and 1904 Hay Road. We are objecting… because this is far too many vacation rental houses n such a small area. We are extremely disappointed, as we have three young children and we were hoping our neighbourhood would be filled with other families. We want to live in a neighbourhood where children can run around and feel safe amongst people we know. Please, we implore you to make the right decision and implement a policy that there cannot be this number of vacation rental homes in such close proximity to one another.”

Councillor Connie Brothers noted that “the nature of the area has changed and won’t support it (meaning a large number of vacation rentals).”

Mayor McKee agreed, asking, “how many in an area is enough?” He has often said that vacation rental applicants have to be good neighbours. (It seems to me that turning a residential neighbourhood into a demonstrably creepy area filled with ‘black windows’ for much of the year would not seem to be the act of good neighbours.)

“We’re trying to get a handle on vacation rentals:” Mayor McKee

“We’re trying to get a handle on vacation rentals because vacation rentals are not going to go away,” he said during one of the afternoon’s hearings. “The question is: How can we make vacation rentals fit into our community, be part of our community and sometimes we can’t…”

James and Stephanie Edmonds application for a vacation rental permit for a home at 1706 McKinnon Road was also denied (You can watch that hearing beginning at the 44:51 mark on Part 2 of the video below.) as was Deborah Garneau and Philip Garneau’s application for a permit for 1879 Corbin Place. (You can watch the hearing for that application on Video 3 beginning at the 7:58-minute mark.)

Councillor Linda Nixon said she could not support that application because the house in question was too close to its neighbours and its soundproofing was inadequate.

“I can’t support it when houses are built so close together — it’s like a trailer park,” she said.

Gary Sulz agreed, saying he’d like to see the communuty remain as it is. That application, too, was denied. However, an application by Karilyn Kempton and Simon Wex for a permit for 414 Moss Street was approved. (Please click here to see all reports and comments regarding this application. You can also watch it on Video 3, beginning at the 32:46-miunute point.)

Proposed plan could postpone affordable housing solution for years

The remaining 94 minutes of the afternoon were taken up by Council’s regular meeting, which you can watch during Parts 4 and 5 of the video recording. The most notable part of the regular meeting revolved around a proposed plan that could — if Mayor McKee’s worst fears are realized — postpone dealing with Revelstoke’s affordable housing  crisis for years.

This plan, proposed by outgoing Development Services Manager Dean Strachan, can be viewed by activating the YouTube player for Video 4 beginning at the 22:15 point.

Strachan proposed that Council call for a new plan for the Bridge Creek properties on Oscar Street and Powerhouse Road. The new plan — the third one proposed for Bridge Creek Properties — need not even contemplate using the property for affordable housing since commercial development in other parts of BC are building affordable housing there, he said.

“This is not a proposal to reserve this for industrial development or any development of any specific type,” he said. “But more so to recognize there are other opportunities…  to give other Councils an opportunity to deal with other emerging issues… Today we don’t need this land.”‘

The City should also initiate yet another community-wide discussion to discover if Revelstoke regards affordable housing as the major issue it is said to be. The mayor said he didn’t necessarily disagree with the plan, but he insisted that the Community Housing Society should see and comment on it before Council dcideds what to do with it.

“It’s the process I’m concerned about,” he said.

However, Councillor Linda Nixon said the City employs professionals for a reason and Council should take their advice.

Mayor McKee, who is society’s chairman, said Strachan’s plan would be the fourth plan since affordable housing was first identified by the community as a critical issue in 2007. He also wanted the society to take a look at Strachan’s proposal before Council decided whether to pursue it officially. However, he was outvoted 5 – 1.