Farm land not needed for housing

The Stop the Swap group would like to respond to several of the points from the Committee for The Economic Survival of Summerland.

Dear Editor:

In a recent letter to mayor and council, the Committee for The Economic Survival of Summerland lends its support to the proposed Urban Growth Plan.

The Stop the Swap group would like to respond to several of the points in that letter.

The main point in the letter is that as elected officials, mayor and council should vote according to their personal convictions and election campaign philosophies.

We disagree.

We believe instead: (1) that democratic input does not end when a ballot is cast; (2) that citizens should expect that their voices be heard on issues which affect the future of their community and (3) that the evidence and concerns citizens raise should be taken into consideration and should influence the final decision.

As Mayor Janice Perrino has emphasized, community consultation is invaluable.

We ask that mayor and council vote in line with the best scientific, economic and social evidence available to them.

In their letter, the Committee for the Economic Survival of Summerland refers to opponents of the proposed Urban Growth Plan as “a small pressure group.”

While the originators of the Stop the Swap group are few in number, the number of opponents to council’s proposal within the community is significant.

This network includes experts with scientific and technical expertise — agrologists, real estate agents, economists, soil scientists, developers — as well as Summerlanders spanning all demographics.

Evidence of widespread community opposition has surfaced in a steady stream of letters to the editor, in chamber rooms and community hearings filled to capacity, at a community rally in March with more than 300 participants, in an online petition containing more than 2,400 signatures (the majority of whom are from Summerland) and in an open letter currently signed by more than 30 Summerland businesses.

What we are seeing is a level of opposition that goes beyond the actions of one group and should be difficult to ignore.

We are concerned with the economic wellbeing of Summerland. We are not opposed to development, and we agree with the committee’s point that development creates jobs.

However, council’s proposal to eliminate farmland to acquire new land for development strikes us as unnecessary.

Summerland does not have a shortage of available development land.

In addition to land already slated for development in the hills, we have ample infill land available in the downtown, Lowertown and Trout Creek areas. Why not develop this available land first?

One option would be to focus on the downtown infill — to provide more dense, affordable housing options in an area which is already serviceable, and immediately generate foot traffic to downtown businesses.

This would result in job creation, since the jobs generated by development will be there no matter where we choose to develop.

We see no economic advantage, and significant disadvantage, to choosing to develop the ALR lands north of Summerland over other available lands.

The Committee for the Economic Survival of Summerland is right in saying that every successful endeavour requires a vision. This is why we are concerned that the Urban Growth Plan places too much emphasis on developing houses, giving insufficient attention to other avenues of economic development.

People will not move here if we cannot provide good job opportunities.

It is time we ask what makes Summerland special and different from other Okanagan communities and consider how we can use the resources we have to generate jobs while continuing to grow in smart, sustainable ways.

What we need are creative solutions and a multi-faceted approach, so let’s get talking and see what we can come up with.

Erin Carlson