Mike Holler speaks at the public hearing on Summerland's proposed Urban Growth Strategy. The hearing was held on April 22 at the Summerland Secondary School gym.

Summerland growth plan decried

Summerland’s proposed Urban Growth Strategy came under fire at a public hearing on Tuesday evening.

Summerland’s proposed Urban Growth Strategy came under fire at a public hearing on Tuesday evening as nearly all the speakers raised concerns and opposition to the plan.

The hearing was held in the Summerland Secondary School gym and lasted for more than three hours.

The proposal calls for the removal of 80.34 hectares of land within the Agricultural Land Reserve close to the core of the community. At the same time, 91.7 hectares in the Prairie Valley area would be added to the provincial land reserve.

More than 200 people were present at the hearing.

Most of the 39 speakers at the hearing spoke about their opposition to the land exchange in the plan.

“Thank you for reminding us what a bad trade looks like,” said Don Gayton. He added that the proposal is  the result of “a flawed and predetermined consultation process.”

George Lerchs said the growth strategy does not make sense based on the available information about the community.

“A reasonable person would not reach this conclusion,” he said.

Heather Ross also questioned the conclusions in the growth strategy.

“Future growth has to be based on rational thought, not fantasizing,” she said.

Others were also disappointed with the way in which the community consultation process was conducted.

“I am concerned that this process was flawed from the start,” said Barbara Thorburn.

“We have wasted a whole bunch of money getting a 91-page report together that is completely flawed,” added Brian Adams.

Others said Summerland’s agricultural land must be preserved.

“Farm land is important,” said David Finnis.

“It is important not just for Summerland but for our entire province of British Columbia.”

“Prime agricultural land needs to be preserved,” said Linda Beaven.

“We need to be accountable to future generations for their food supply.”

“The land is the most precious resource there is, everywhere in the world,” said Keith Carlson.

Steve Brown, a horticulturalist, said the land slated for removal and the land to go into the land reserve are not the same quality.

“The lands are not comparable,” he said. He added that he has taken numerous soil samples from the properties in question.

Some of those who spoke asked council to let the public decide whether to proceed with the growth strategy.

“I strongly urge you to hold a referendum on the proposed Urban Growth Strategy,” said David Williams.

Erin Carlson, organizer of the Stop the Swap group, said a petition opposing the growth strategy has grown to more than 3,000 signatures, 1,500 of them from Summerland residents.

Now that the public hearing has concluded, the bylaw will come back to municipal council at the next meeting which will be held on Monday, April 28.

If council passes this reading, the bylaw will go to the provincial Agricultural Land Commission for approval.

If the land commission approves the growth strategy, the plan will then come back to council for adoption.

The report from a lengthy consultation process came before council in December and has generated much community interest and concern since that time.

An earlier public hearing had been held in early March, but at that hearing, in the Arena Banquet Room, some who wished to attend were locked out as the room was filled to capacity.

Comments made at the March 3 meeting remain in the public record.

All comments and written submissions from the that meeting and from the hearing on Tuesday are part of the record and will be sent to the land commission.

On April 7, council held a town hall information session to answer questions from the public about the plan.

At least 350 people attended.

Two members of municipal council, Coun. Bruce Hallquist and Coun. Lloyd Christopherson, both own land within the affected area.

As a result, they have not participated in any of the discussions or votes on the proposed growth plan and have not been present at the hearings on the growth plan.