Growth and future land use, both hot-button topics for at least the past year, were discussed at an all-candidates forum at Centre Stage Theatre last week.
The forum was organized by Penticton-based Locals Supporting Locals. All five mayoral candidates and 13 of the 16 councillor candidates were present. Marty Fisher and incumbents Bruce Hallquist and Martin Van Alphen were absent.
Responses were divided between those arguing for growth in the community and those opposed to the proposed Urban Growth Plan.
“I want to see us all prosper together,” said councillor candidate Joel Gregg. “If we’re not growing, we’re dying. There is no middle ground.”
Mayoral candidate Orv Robson said the community’s growth rate has been one half of one per cent a year since 1996.
“We have to grow, and to grow we have to bring in families,” he said. “Growth is what makes communities flourish, and we need to have growth.”
“We have to look at what’s going to grow our community in Summerland,” said mayoral candidate Roch Fortin.
Daniel Papadopoulos, a councillor candidate, spoke of the need to draw younger families and improve the downtown.
Councillor candidate Janet Peake also said efforts are needed downtown. “I want to help to revitalize Summerland’s downtown,” she said.
Councillor candidate Robert Hacking said proper planning, density and services are needed to accommodate growth. If growth happens too quickly, the result will be “horrific urban sprawl,” he said.
Other candidates talked about their disappointment with the proposed Urban Growth Plan, which would remove from the Agricultural Land Reserve more than 80 hectares of land near the core of the community, replacing it with more than 90 hectares in the Prairie Valley area.
“The proposed land swap is the biggest issue that faces Summerland today,” said councillor candidate Richard Barkwill. “The land swap is a bad deal for the taxpayers of Summerland.”
Councillor candidate Doug Holmes also opposed the plan, which he says does not fit with Smart Growth principles.
John Dorn, a councillor candidate, described the growth plan as a “land swap fiasco.”
“Building houses on high-value agricultural land in hopes that they will come makes no sense,” he said.
While opposed to the growth plan, Dorn said he supports a task force to examine the community’s economy.
Mayoral candidate David Gregory said he would work to rescind the application to remove land from the ALR.
“Agricultural land should be preserved,” he said, adding that residential growth should take place on hillsides.
Councillor candidate Erin Carlson, a vocal opponent of the growth plan earlier this year, also wants growth on the hillsides instead of on flat agricultural land.
Peter Waterman, an advocate for preserving agricultural land, said he would work to withdraw the ALR application. Councillor candidate Toni Boot also said she would work to withdraw the land reserve application.
Mayoral candidate Christopher Boisvert-Gilman said agricultural land, once developed, cannot be returned to farm use.
“Once it’s paved over and we start growing houses, there’s no going back,” he said.
Councillor candidate Mark Smed expressed his concerns with the costs of expansion compared to the revenue it will bring.
Erin Trainer, a candidate for councillor, said it is important for the new council to look for opportunities and compromises.
“Summerland’s problems are real,” she said. “We can find solutions.”
Councillor candidate Denise MacDonald said it is important to to have community support for any major project and for council to have a clear vision.
“Let’s plan and be prepared for the next wave of change coming our way,” she said.
Ken Rodocker said it is important to examine the land plan before making a decision on whether to support or oppose it.
“We spent the money. What have we got?” he asked. “Let us look at it and bring it to you.”