No intent to be sneaky says Invermere Mayor
By Chris Conway
They came ready to rumble.
Two and a half hours later most left with a restored yet still cautious faith in their local government.
On Tuesday evening (March 17) about 40 people attended a public hearing in Invermere regarding proposed changes to the District of Invermere’s Official Community Plan (OCP).
The proposed OCP is intended to replace the existing plan in effect since 2001.
Last year residents participated in a process known as Imagine Invermere 2030 from which the new OCP was drafted. Alarm bells began ringing when it became apparent that the new plan had been quietly revised and some people felt that it no longer reflected the Imagine Invermere process.
On March 11 the district held an open house. Last night the process moved forward with a mandated public hearing prior to second and third readings of the OCP prior to adoption.
The meeting began with a presentation from district chief administrative officer Chris Prosser, who outlined changes that have been made since March 11 to rectify the concerns voiced at the open house and through letters to the paper and the municipality. This was followed with a period for questions from the floor to further inform those in attendance.
Prosser clarified that the OCP is a high level guide for the current and future councils and that as such council has full discretion to amend, follow or ignore the OCP.
He pointed out that council changes every four years and that a future council may choose to amend the OCP through a repeat of the current public process.
Mayor Gerry Taft added that there was no intent on the part of the current council to do “some kind of sneaky thing.”
He stated that the purpose of the OCP was to provide guidance only.
The formal public hearing was then convened and chaired by Mayor Taft. During the hearing the mayor and council listened to verbal submissions from some of the people present.
Meredith Hamstead, whose letter had initially raised significant concerns, stated that she had come with a lot of things to say but that Prosser’s presentation had left her with fewer.
“This is a reflection of the rigorous process,” said Hampstead. She stated that the changes now in place bolstered the Imagine Invermere process and if adopted it could be considered successful despite the fact that she was still not satisfied with some of the terms.
Hamstead noted that additional layers of public process and referenda offered an acceptable safeguard. She concluded with the comment that this had been an amazing process of dialogue.
Rancher Dave Zehnder stated that the frustration and fear evident in the last few weeks was due to the speed at which things were unfolding. He raised concerns about the lack of communication with agricultural landowners and the lack of consultation with the Windermere Farmer’s Institute. Zehnder proposed that the hearing be adjourned to a later date to allow time for proper consultation and to allow more people to comment.
Baiba Morrow expressed her vision for an OCP for the entire valley and the fact that everyone has so much in common.
Mayor Taft stated that this was a good point; however, each municipality can only plan for areas within their jurisdictions. He did recognize the value of ensuring that various visions should match and complement each other.
In the absence of further submissions, Taft asked for a show of hands to indicate how many people liked the idea of an adjournment of the hearing to allow for further comments and participation in the process prior to adoption. Almost all those present raised their hands.
The mMayor and councillors unanimously agreed to adjourn the meeting until a later date.
Zehnder expressed appreciation to council and staff. “How great it is to have a political process that works, kudos to everyone,” he said. “It’s a really big deal, thank you all.”
The public hearing was then adjourned by Taft to reconvene at the district offices on March 31, at 6 p.m.
Any person who deems their interests to be affected by the OCP may attend on that date to provide further submissions or send them in the meantime to the District office by letter or email. The draft OCP and other relevant documents are available at the District office or on the district’s website at www.invermere.net
Lead photo: CAO Chris Prosser presents latest updates and changes to the OCP. Chris Conway photo.