COLUMN: A shift in community debates

In a few days, 2017 will be behind.

The new year is a time to look ahead, to make new plans, set goals and make resolutions. But it’s also a time to look back at the year that was. It’s a time to reflect and to take the lessons of the past and apply them to the future.

Over the past year, two news stories in Summerland — the ongoing Banks Crescent development proposal and the proposed regional compost facility — dominated the news coverage and the discussion within the community.

The proposed Banks Crescent development is a 424-unit seniors housing facility, to be built overlooking the lake. At present, the land is used as an orchard, although it is not in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

The proposed regional compost facility, rejected in fall, called for a facility at the Summerland Landfill which would handle compost and organic waste from within the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen.

These two stories played out in almost exactly the same way.

At first, the developer or proponent of the project presented information about the concept. Then, those living near the proposed development or facility would voice their concerns.

This level of debate and discourse was extremely good. Those on both sides presented fact-based arguments on why they supported or opposed the concepts.

The Banks Crescent developer and supporters spoke about the housing that would be provided, the number of jobs which would be created and the potential economic impact from this development.

Opponents raised numerous questions, including about the stability of the land where the proposed development is to be built. They also mentioned the effects on groundwater and the potential impact on the trout hatchery.

With the compost facility, the proponents spoke about the need for a regional facility, the way the facility would be managed and the potential economic benefits for Summerland.

These were countered with concerns about the odour from the facility, the increased truck traffic along Prairie Valley Road and the possibility of a spill en route to the facility.

The dialogue about these developments were based on facts and strong, well-reasoned arguments.

But then the discourse moved into a different direction.

The focus of the Banks Crescent debate shifted to a focus on a petition organized by opponents of the project. The petition has been updated regularly and today, more than 3,000 people have supported it.

In response, some of those in favour of the development have also attempted to show the amount of support the project would have.

In addition, many homes near the proposed development have signs showing their opposition to the project.

The same thing played out with the debate over the compost facility, as opponents circulated a petition and posted signs showing their disapproval of the concept.

While these petitions and signs may indicate the level of support or opposition for a project, they do not change the facts of the proposals.

The compost facility is no longer under consideration in Summerland, but Banks Crescent is still on the table.

In the days and weeks to come, the community will have an opportunity to speak out about this issue at a public hearing. Municipal council will then vote on whether to allow this proposal to proceed.

This decision and any other development decision in the community should be made after careful consideration of the merits and drawbacks of the proposed facility.

A good idea is a good idea, even if few people are in favour. And a bad idea is still a bad idea, even if it has plenty of public support.

Ideally, good ideas should also receive plenty of public support, but when this does not happen, a decision should be made based on the merits of the proposal, not the number of people in support or opposition.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

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