West Bench: Traditionalists versus Industrialists

Just in case you think the stakes are low in an OCP review, I thought I should make everyone aware of an emerging controversy on the West Bench: Traditionalists versus Industrialists. Although both views are complex and serious, I can sketch them as follows:

  • The traditionalists want the West Bench to be like it always has been: rural residential.  They do not like commercial vehicles, monster garages, or any activity that is not either unambiguously residential or agricultural.
  • The industrialists point to the decline of agriculture on the West Bench and the impossibility of subdividing. They ask: "What is the point of a 1.6 acre West Bench lot beyond a really big lawn?"  These people want to use their land to, for example, store equipment related to their livelihoods.  Doing this now contravenes our rural residential zoning bylaw.  The industrialists want the bylaw changed to reflect the new reality.

 

Naturally, this debate applies primarily to the original West Bench.  An explicit objective of the Veterans Land Act project on the West Bench was to provide vets with enough land to grow fruit and thereby supplement their incomes.  This model was not adopted in subsequent subdivisions, such as Sage Mesa, Husula, and certainly not Westwood Properties.  But the legacy of the VLA on the West Bench is many large lots (1.6 - 2.0 acres) with few fruit trees.

I am not going to take sides in this debate other than to make the following observation: There are more West Bench industrialists than you might think.  They don't say much (likely for fear of attracting bylaw enforcement--Roza at the RDOS has been very busy on the West Bench lately).  But take a drive down your street and look in yards and driveways.  You will see that different people have different views of what the West Bench should be.

(Comments--including anonymous comments--are welcome below.)

Neighborhoods: 

Comments

If the so-called industrialists really consider that having a large property that isn't being farmed only means that it's wasted in lawn, they are very narrow-minded (self-interested more likely). There are quite a number of people, some recent arrivals on the Bench, who have horses, chickens, and large gardens and I hazard a guess that a great number of the huge lawns (I'm not in favour of these either) are on properties owned by people of an age when they aren't able to make other uses of the land; but that will change. I am appalled at the idea of the lovely, semi-rural West Bench being turned into a mini industrial subsidiary to Penticton, chiefly I think because it's cheaper than renting or owning land in the actual industrial area. I heard that argument from one person who, yes, does have a business on the Bench with largish equipment. I too seriously dislike the increased traffic of large vehicles, the enormous 'garages' being constructed, and even more the attitude that businesses have the right for some reason to take over the quiet place we live in. I live just a few blocks from what was a lovely property with gardens and horse pasture the new owners of which have for the past year been digging out, adding soil to, and otherwise destroying the place with no discernible purpose. Small, home-based businesses I have no problem with, but not ones that change the whole character of the area.

We have traditionalists and industrialists. But I should also point out that we have densifiers.  These three camps should be seen as three different points on a triangle in that they each have different visions of the future West Bench.  The densifiers want to increase density (in certain pockets) of the West Bench. To do this, would-be densifiers need some kind of technology to deal with storm and sanitary sewer.  They will likely also need to upgrade our water systems.

Given the cost of sewers for the West Bench, I think it is safe to assume we are talking about a fairly significant uptick in density.  To make this more concrete, think of the Banks Crescent development on the WOW golf course.  Nothing like this has been proposed by anyone; I am just using this as a hypothetical example because the two sites have similarities (except sewer and water, of course). And I am guessing that 400 units is close to the break-even density given the technical challenges of building on silt.  Of course, if a developer of such a project is willing to pay a big chunk of the cost of a sewer connection to Penticton, then that opens the possibility of sewer for all.

Now I know a lot of people, when asked, are not in favor of densification.  But I also know there are a lot of illegal suites on the West Bench.  Mortgage helpers, in-law suites, and carriage houses (all not permitted in the greater West Bench due to soil instability) are forms of densification.  So if there are four cars in your driveway and people living in your basement, you have already aligned yourself with the densifiers.

Disclosure: I currently have one Okanagan Hockey Academy billet in my basement.  At one point a couple of years ago I had four Vees/OHA billets living in my house (all great kids).  Billets are a bit of a grey area.  They are probably permitted in the zoning bylaw (since I am not getting paid, per se).  But they are contrary to the spirit of limiting the number of toilets flushed on the West Bench (soil instability).

Of course ideally we'd find something in the middle ground of these groups. My one neighbour who moved in, denuded the entire property, build a huge garage, covered the ground with boulders to absorb a little more heat in the summer and decorated so far with weeds and heavy equipment and my other neighbour runs various pesticide/chemical businesses with large equipment. Both neighbours have shipping containers and it's feeling very industrial, not like a neighbourhood. Having said that one of these 2 tries to be as discreet and respectful as possible and the other doesn't, so it is also a matter of approach even in these cases.
Another neighbour is running a small florist business while another has a kiln. Is there not a way to support some businesses and be a bit flexible while preventing someone from coming into the community and treating it like a dockyard? Could bylaws not help restrict usage to some definition on non industrial small businesses to allow flexibility?
I love the rural agricultural feel here but what about everyone wanting to keep the school? How can we keep a school when few young families can afford these properties? Do we need to allow carriage houses or some densification to provide options for young families or give up on the school?
I am looking forward to not just hearing what people's 'wants' for the community are but also really anxious to hear any creative solutions to move forward with an active sustainable somewhat rural feeling community. Let's not lose the unique character of the area anymore than we have.

Comment from a resident via email:

I am not able to attend either meeting coming up. Are these open-house info-type meetings? What process will take place other than these meetings regarding usage changes? Will there be a vote? I ask because of a very similar experience on the outskirts of Edmonton. An area that was rural acreages was allowed industrial use. I can tell you that in a short time frame, the little area was swamped in gravel trucks, backhoes, tractor trailers etc. Property values plummeted, and so did the lifestyle the original owners thought they were buying into. This was unfair. I cannot see why any such change would be allowed in Area F-it's bad enough as it is, due to loose by-laws. There are some bonafide junkyards in Area F (West Bench) that escape any by-law penalty. How can a by-law enforcement officer look at a collection of broken hot tubs, truck bodies, scrap iron etc and say "Looks okay to me"?  I know Roza is kept busy, but I also think this is a result of a far too loose approach to enforcing existing by-laws. It might be called salami evolution. Let one thing go, then another goes, then another, and then precedent is used to justify further erosion of original intent. Let's reverse it for a moment. An industrial area is slowly encroached on by residential owners, who graduate to demanding that industrial use be stopped. Those original industrial owners would be none too happy, and this is no different. To encourage more industrial usage is to admit the rural lifestyle intent of West Bench is done like dinner.

I am a bit embarassed to admit this, but the mode of public consultation is still being negotiated (meeting in Gastown tomorrow).  Consultants want one thing; I want something a bit closer to the "vote" you mention.  It will not be a vote, of course.  But hopefully we can conduct a large sample survey with multiple rounds and lots of opportunity to enter comments.  Why a survey?  Because open-mic public meetings are known to be more cathartic than constructive.  But to get a large sample survey we need people to actually participate.  And to run multiple rounds and have the ability to enter comments we need to participate on the Internet.  Large paper-based surveys cost real money ever step of the way:  printing, mailing, return mailing, data entry.  So hopefully we can get people to get involved.  Standby for more details (Update: some details).

I can't believe that this is being entertained as a reasonable or responsible option for the West Bench. The semi rural way of life here is our greatest gift and the loss of this would catastrophic! I have an neighbor who would be chomping at the bit to turn his massive garage into an auto body repair shop. A garage that Michael Brydon called a 'bomb' dropped into the heighbourhood. I already get the whiffs of his occasional car painting projects when he turns on his industrial fan that roars like a jet landing. Imagine the stream of cars using our little side road, parking issues, the impending problems and issues go on and on. Penticton has an industrial area for a reason and that is where industry belongs. I totally get it when people get upset with businesses bringing in containers, trucks, tractors. Just drive up to Husula and you can see why this is an issue for surrounding neighbours. I look forward to having my input in the discussion and hope that the 'Big Giant Heads' at the RDOS don't make this an arbitrary decision.

There are (at least) two sides to this.  So make sure you and all your neighbors take part in the democratic process.  Start with the Round 1 survey (and don't forget to include your email address at the end).

The current posting is trying to simply the different visions people have for the West Bench; the existing demographic is more complex and this reductionist stance inadequately defines the real problem of contract violation (bylaws, social, and legal).

Regardless of any future potential changes to bylaws or the OCP, the failure of the RDOS to enforce existing bylaws sends a message that it is acceptable to violate agreements without repercussion. If these so called industrialists are violating the existing bylaws, then they should be fined and held accountable until compliance with bylaws are achieved. Denying the residents of the West Bench bylaw enforcement is a subtle endorsement of activities that are in contravention to existing bylaws (or is it open season for anyone to do anything regardless of bylaws?). Even if the OCP or future changes to bylaws make current industrialists' activities permissible, the current state of violation needs to be met with enforcement. If the existing bylaws come as a surprise to industrialists, perhaps they should have read the bylaws and zoning restrictions prior to purchasing property or moving into the area (much like prospective condominium buyers are required to read strata bylaws prior to purchase). Pleading ignorance is unacceptable.

Failure to enforce existing bylaws not only empowers the industrialists who are by definition in violation of an existing contract; the RDOS (and its administration) could be exposing itself to future litigation should it be determined that an industrialist who was in contravention of the bylaws was not held accountable because the RDOS failed to act. Imagine an industrialist is storing pesticides or some other chemicals along with industrial equipment. Subsequently, the RDOS investigates, determines a bylaw is in violation, but administration determines not to pursue enforcement. Now imagine a scenario where perhaps these chemicals leak or interact and produce a noxious gas that results in physical harm to a young child in the area (possibly a neighbor's young daughter). Not only would this hypothetical event of physical harm be a terrible, it would be predictable if you take it to the logical extreme as the above has demonstrated. If RDOS had attempted to remedy the situation through education and proper enforcement, then there was a chance such a situation was avoidable. If the RDOS fails to act through bylaw enforcement (which is the current case), then the RDOS is potentially liable for failure to ensure bylaw enforcement.

Many so called traditionalists moved to the West Bench because of the peaceful rural setting and have invested considerable money to maintain their properties. As industrialist encroachment has ensued, it has negatively distracted from the peaceful and rural setting the traditionalists initially sought. The absurd notion that industrialists can ignore bylaws for their own benefit (at the expense of traditionalists) while the RDOS fails to enforce bylaws facilitates a takings claim as it unilaterally shifts an economic benefit (land value, business value) from the traditionalists to the industrialists.

West Bench residents have easy access to Penticton's industrial areas; I am unsure why the West Bench is becoming a haven for businesses looking to offload industrial rental space costs at the expense of the peaceful and rural setting residents have enjoyed for the past seven decades - that is, other than the RDOS's failure to act by not enforcing existing bylaws. The RDOS administration can not abdicate its responsibility to enforce bylaws for the sole benefit of industrialists. The RDOS administration needs to immediately recognize their current failure to act; examine the current bylaws and ensure enforcement or compliance of the offending parties.

I am not sure it is fair to say that the RDOS does not enforce bylaws.  Roza and our bylaw enforcement contractor opened 13 new files last quarter and closed 20 existing files (saw quarterly update at our April 20th meeting).  The RDOS has steadily increased the budget for enforcement over the last couple of years and is currently hiring another clerical position.  Clerical support is critical since a big part of bylaw enforcement is correspondence and documentation.

Bylaw enforcement at the RDOS and elsewhere is complaint driven.  That is, we do not have staff driving around looking in people's backyards except in response to complaints.  Two exceptions: (a) building inspectors may act if, in passing, they see a health and safety issue and (b) as Electoral Area Director I may submit a complaint.  This latter exception is helpful for those who want to make an anonymous complaint through me.  I usually take a few moments to ensure the complaint is legimate (not just neighbor-on-neighbor warfare).

One problem--which people do not often recognize--is that the RDOS (or any government in Canada) cannot enforce a bylaw that does not exist.  Nor can we create a bylaw and apply it retroactively.  We have to work with what is on the books.  And if we want to change a bylaw or enact a restriction, we have to undergo a long and rigorous process (see for example the new Environmentally Sensitive Development Permit update).

Land use bylaws in rural areas are generally vague and permissive.  Historically, this situation has suited rural dwellers who did not want to shoulder the cost and inconvenience of heavy-handed government intervention. Plus the large lot sizes in rural areas make the stakes a bit lower in rural areas than high-density urban cores.  The Area F zoning bylaw, for example, is not nearly as restrictive as some might think.  We can change that--indeed, that is the whole purpose of the OCP review: to see whether our land use bylaws need to be changed.

What this means is the following:  Just because you see something that you do not like (or is different from the past, such as monster garages or motocross tracks on agricultural land) does not necessarily mean we have a bylaw prohibiting it.  What we have instead is "permitted uses".  For example, the rural residential areas (e.g., the SH5 zone on the West Bench) permit "residential uses".  The problem is that "residential uses" is not particularly crisp or well defined.  And unless the problem is especially egregious, the RDOS may be reluctant to go to court to clarify.  Court costs everyone real money (recall Blackwell and Naramata vacation rentals). And court may not yield the outcome the majority of residents want.  So I certainly stand by our reluctance to litigate, except as a last resort.

We have, at my request, suspended bylaw enforcement on a couple iffy "home occupation" cases on the West Bench.  Home occupation is a permitted use in rural residential areas under our bylaw.  However, some argue--fairly convincingly, I think--that the home occupation definition in our bylaw is out of date.  Since we are in the middle of an OCP review anyway, it makes sense to see which way the wind is blowing before harassing people with bylaw enforcement.  This is a democracy, after all.

Finally, the role of the regional district is to regulate land use in the broadest terms. We do not regulate micro-issues like chemical storage.  If you spill harmful chemicals on your property, that is your problem. 

We live in a lovely community with strong roots to the past.  Even though most of us do not conduct business on our residential properties, there are some that do.  Saying that, no one would dispute the right to earn your livelihood, hover, I believe that a "few" are going beyond reason.  There is no need for industrial garages, sea containers, or pieces of heavy equipment which operate outside of normal business times.  I believe that the Bylaw enforcement people are doing a good job generally, and it is difficult to make everyone happy, but, when I complained about the rock pile/sea containers, and noxious weeds on my neighbors property, or the  house at the top of the street that has been under renovation for over 2 years with noxious weeds, and a minimum of 2 or max. of 5 unlicenced vehicles in the overgrown yard, I was advised that everything was fine and this wa normal "construction".  That seems to be very skewed thinking.  I believe that the O.C.P. should not allow "light" industrial business in a residential neighbouhood.  Our area will grow and change with the times, but it is still residential for the most part and should stay that way.  I hope there will be more meetings in future about this, as we were out of town for the June 14 one.  

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