Summerland, we need to talk.
The Banks Crescent development has come and gone and although I was in favour of it because of the much-needed boost to the district’s tax roll, I also believe in democracy.
And I believe democracy was served in this case when council voted down the development for a senior care home at the contentious Banks Crescent location.
But it leaves important questions unanswered. Number One: If not this project, then what?
The Banks Crescent project held great potential to bring in doctors, nurses and professional families to the area, not to mention much needed senior-care spaces.
It was relatively non-polluting and wasn’t likely to generate a lot of noise complaints once construction was complete. It’s not like the developer was proposing an aluminum smelter or a nightclub down in the space where a quiet little vineyard now sits.
But in the end, we couldn’t get past the potential problems.
So where do we go now?
I’ve heard many people mention that they envision a Summerland that possesses a quaint character and a quiet heart; one filled with boutique-style shops, specialty stores and unique restaurants.
But finding the right balance of quaint and quiet is tricky.
Last summer, a local woman visiting my business remarked how she was taking her out-of-town guests to Peachland for the evening. She felt guilty for doing it, but I couldn’t fault her.
She said Peachland was simply “more fun.” And she was right. Peachland in the evening is packed full of people, there to enjoy “the scene”, have dinner, a drink, maybe walk the beach and go shopping.
Most evenings, summer or winter, Summerland streets and sidewalks are shockingly barren.
So, we have to ask ourselves if we really want a vibrant community of eclectic shops and cool dining. If we do, how do we build it? How do we make it sustainable for the long term?
Part of the answer involves finding new ways to welcome new families, even though it might mean small compromises. A little increased traffic, for example, might be a small price to pay to attract new investors willing to renovate the aging buildings downtown and elsewhere.
It might require that we relax some bylaws, while getting tougher with others, until we find the right mix that sparks renewal.
We also need to find a way to generate more visitors through the critical core block of downtown.
The proposed new rental apartment unit planned for Wharton Street is a promising development.
There are also plans in the works to revive the Fall Festival and build on the fledgling Ryga Festival for arts and music. As well, some businesses in downtown have grabbed the bull by the horns and are planning events of their own for this summer and beyond.
All these initiatives are on the right track but we still have to overcome Summerland’s reputation for being a place where nothing ever happens.
It’s a reputation well-earned because, frankly, that’s a central reason why many of us choose to live here.
But we can’t have it both ways. We can’t say we want a town with a beating heart, if we are not willing to work for one.
We need new ideas to help Summerland become the destination of choice more often for those who shuttle up and down Highway 97.
Our community will always have agriculture as its backbone and its most important charm, but if we want the character of our community to be more than one of essential services, then we need to do better.
What do we do now Summerland? What do we truly want and how do we get there? Or if today’s Summerland is your idea of a perfect community, (and it is pretty good) then let’s get that out there too.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Terry Fries is a Summerland journalist specializing in business and agricultural issues. He has more than 20 years experience as an editor and writer.