Ootischenia meeting clarifies Castlegar boundary extension issues
Around 90 people showed up to a meeting at the Ootischenia Hall last night to discuss concerns about a proposed boundary expansion by the City of Castlegar.
As explained by meeting chair and RDCK Area J director Gordon Zaitsoff, there were two separate issues causing Ootischenia residents concern, the first being the city’s stated intent of applying to the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development to extend its boundaries to include a 25-hectare parcel of land owned by the Ministry of Transportation (MoT) and known as the gravel pit lands.
Should this move forward, the city would not own the land (MoT would retain ownership), but the parcel would then fall under city jurisdiction as opposed to the RDCK’s.
The second issue is the sale of any portion of said land – MoT district operations manager Darrell Gunn said they don’t know yet, whether or when any surplus land on the parcel will be put up for sale, but the city asked for and received first right of refusal should any sale proceed (an environmental assessment is under way as the first step in a process to determine the feasibility of such a sale). He said some of the gravel quarry has been exhausted, but there remains as much as a decade or more of mining life in the quarry land at the south end of the parcel, and the site has strategic value for the MoT for maintenance works (ie; highway sanding, etc.) so it seems unlikely the entire parcel will ever be up for grabs.
The primary concerns of residents who spoke at the meeting centred around not having a say in how the land in question will be developed should the city purchase same, as a portion of it serves as a buffer between homes in the area and the gravel pit, as recreational parkland for residents providing access to the river, and as a wildlife corridor.
Other concerns included the possibility that this is just the beginning, and the city would eventually annex the entire Ootischenia area.
When asked why the RDCK didn’t request first right of refusal on the land, RDCK CAO Brian Carruthers pointed out that the regional district hasn’t the wherewithal for such a purchase, and when asked why the RD doesn’t just zone the portion of land in question as parkland, he explained that regional districts can’t just make arbitrary land-use designations on privately-owned property.
Zaitsoff said the land was identified in a 2006 Ootischenia Official Community Plan (OCP) for parkland or “community service land” (a wide umbrella that could include a hospital, park, seniors centre) as opposed to land for commercial development, but the OCP has little force and effect beyond informing ministries and other governing bodies of the wishes of area residents, as long as the land remains privately-owned.
Carruthers said, though, that residents will likely be better served by seeing the land in the hands of a municipality (Castlegar) than if it were purchased by a private developer – the former is bound by public consultation processes and the wishes of the electorate, while the latter wouldn’t have to offer residents any chance at input whatsoever.
“It’s a thorny issue … (but) I think your neighbours, the residents of Castlegar, would understand and respect your concerns,” he said, adding acrimonious and adversarial interaction between Area J and the City of Castlegar is ill-advised, in his opinion. “This isn’t us-versus-them. That’s divisive and counter-productive. You’re all part of the same community. You live and work together, with the only separation being an artificial boundary; a line on a map.”
As for taking over all of Ootischenia, Carruthers said he couldn’t see why Castlegar would want to.
“There’s no solid business case for taking over purely residential land,” he said, explaining the city would likely only look at land for potential development, or land with large existing operations such as a hospital. “In residential areas, the cost of service provision (water, sewer, etc.) is greater than the benefit of tax revenue from residences.”
A representative of the Ootischenia Improvement District said his organization was taking no position on the issue beyond ensuring they maintained their permit for a well sited on the property.
When asked what the best-case-scenario outcome for him would be, Zaitsoff said it would be a more collaborative relationship with the city.
“There has to be some sort of working dialogue. It isn’t there,” he said. “We want to sit down with our neighbours, the City of Castlegar, and put together a plan for this area. We want to ensure that we’re part of the process moving forward. We want to protect that land down by the river and ensure what’s being done is being done openly, transparently, and in the best interests of everyone in this valley.”
For the city’s part, councillor Deb McIntosh said there’s no hidden agenda at work, and rumours the city has any plans at all for the land (one such rumour suggests a sewage treatment facility in the offing) are wildly innaccurate – the lack of consultation is simply because it’s far too soon in the process to discuss the disposition of lands the city doesn’t own and that are not even within city boundaries.
“We have limited man hours, and we’d prefer to spend them making decisions on real issues. To me this is a non-issue, at this point,” she said. “We don’t even know if, or when, the property will come up for sale … or if it even can. There’s an environmental study to complete, and issues around the Highway 3 right-of-way to resolve. To discuss how to develop it is outrageously premature, at this juncture.”
Zaitsoff, Carruthers and organizing resident Michelle Donaldson all made a point of saying the city has, “not done anything wrong,” and that their concern is with the process, not the city’s adherence to same.
The meeting ended with Zaitsoff, Carruthers, and Donaldson encouraging residents to ensure their concerns and wishes are known to the MoT, the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, and the mayor and council of Castlegar.