Summerland’s proposed Urban Growth Plan received strong opposition at a public hearing on Monday evening.
The hearing in the Arena Banquet Room drew a packed house as more than 40 people voiced their concerns about the plan.
Others had earlier sent written submissions, the majority in opposition to the proposal.
The Urban Growth Plan calls for the removal of 80.34 hectares of land within the Agricultural Land Reserve close to the core of the community.
In exchange, 91.7 hectares in the Prairie Valley area would be added to the land reserve.
“There is no need to remove prime ALR land,” said Kimberly Westgate. “There is land outside the ALR which could be developed.”
She added that hillsides, not valley bottom land, should be developed.
Don Gayton, a professional agrologist, said the need for additional growth is overstated.
He said the average selling time of a house in Summerland is around 130 days, while in the rest of the Okanagan Valley, the selling time is 90 days. The vacancy rates for homes and condominium units in Summerland are much higher than the provincial average, he added.
John Barber said a referendum is needed before adopting the proposed growth plan. “I feel there is more to lose than to gain,” he added.
Keith Carlson, chief executive officer of the Okanagan Plant Improvement Corporation, said agriculture is an important part of the community. Over the years, fruit varieties from Summerland have gained a strong reputation worldwide.
“Houses can be built anywhere; farm land is valuable,” he said.
Dru Yates said the land exchange is not fair, since the land to be removed is of a much higher quality than the land to be added to the land reserve.
“I see this as nothing more than a shell game being played with the Prairie Valley lands,” added Julie Sardinha.
Barbara Thorburn said the recommendations from the growth report do not reflect the wishes of the public.
“We need to have a deep, meaningful consultation about this issue,” she said.
John Gordon, who farms close to the core of the community, said there are many vacant properties between his farm and the downtown area.
He added that there are other opportunities for growth, without the need for removing land from the land reserve.
David Finnis said the agricultural land will be needed for food production in the future. He said a large-scale drought in California should show the importance of local food security.
“We have a responsibility to the future to preserve this land.”
George Brake said the growth plan makes sense in the short term, but is not a good long-term strategy.
“In the future, we are going to need every bit of our prime agricultural land,” he said. “When you cannot eat, nothing else matters.
Supporting the proposed plan, Pam Killick, a farmer, said housing is needed.
“We need to build homes in the downtown core to keep young people here,” she said.
Don Hudgeon said the growth plan as presented makes sense because it keeps development close to the existing services and utilities.
He added that the plan reflects the comments from the public during the consultation process.
“It’s the result of what the majority of interested people in Summerland wanted,” he said. “They are just doing what we asked them to do.”
Chamber president Arlene Fenrich said consultation process was inclusive and comprehensive.
She added that densification will help to create a more walkable community.
Now that the public hearing has been completed, the second and third readings of the bylaw on the growth plan will be considered at the council meeting on Monday, March 10.
Coun. Lloyd Christopherson and Coun. Bruce Hallquist, who both own land in the area affected, were not present at the public hearing and will not be present when the decision on the plan is made at the next council meeting.