DOI contemplates a major waterfront buy
By Stephanie Stevens
To buy or not to buy?
The District of Invermere (DOI) is considering the purchase of the Lake Windermere Resort (LWR) lands in Athalmer, a potential move that Mayor Al Miller referred to as “a major buy” at the January Regional District of East Kootenay meeting.
The purchase is one of the larger ticket items on the Invermere Financial Plan for 2019-2023, which received first reading Jan. 22.
The area, approximately 14 acres, would encompass the LWR lands, the Lake Windermere garage lands as well as the marina lease, as well as the lands where Columbia River Paddle and boat storage is currently located.
“The discussion first started when we began looking at improving our boat launch at the location,” explained DOI Chief Administrative Officer Chris Prosser. “We conducted a land survey and found out that most of the land area was privately owned and to make any improvements to create a better functioning boat launch would require land acquisition.”
Prosser said the DOI originally approached the owners for just the area required for upgrading the boat launch and some parking, but the owners refused, saying they were not interested in selling small parcels, but they would sell the entire parcel.
After some back and forth, with offers rejected by both sides, the idea was put on the back burner. At that point the owners wanted $10 million for the land.
But last July, the owners came back and asked if the DOI was still interested.
“We said sure, depending upon the price and they stated $5 million and they would not go any lower,” said Prosser. “So we took it back to council. At that time, council said ‘let’s develop a letter of intent so the property does not get sold out from underneath us like the Kinsmen Beach lands did in 2004.’ We negotiated a conditional exclusive purchase agreement with some deadlines to allow us to go through the public process. While we negotiated over the fall, council directed staff to run an opinion poll question at the general election to gauge the level of community support to acquire the lands.”
The poll indicated support for the purchase at around 67%, said Prosser, so council directed staff to bring forward an initiative.
Miller said he believes when Invermere has the chance to pick up “quality river front for the future,” it was best to take advantage of the opportunity.
“At Kinsmen Beach years ago we had an opportunity to buy lake front (land). We could have used that extra space now,” Miller added.
If the DOI does go through with the purchase, future plans beyond improving the boat launch and increase public access will require “extensive community planning,” including input from residents.
“We anticipate that there will be components of commercial and public uses on the property,“ said Prosser. “What for sure is to be defined at a later date. But part of the strategy is to create more appealing parcels for developers to purchase or lease from the DOI.”
The LWR was originally slated to include a convention centre, condos, hotel and commercial lease opportunities.
“We have not seen anything occur on this land since the original Crown Grant in 1992,” said Prosser. “What was supposed to be an economic development driver for the community has been an eyesore of dirt piles and vacant land with no real economic or community benefit to the district or the valley. The intent is to see if a change of ownership to the district can spur a short term and long term development for the properties to benefit the community with direct community involvement in the land planning process.”
Prosser added that at this point, the opinions on what the land could be best used for is varied, from park space to hotels, commercial business to residences, adding the key benefit for the district is to see the re-development of the boat launch and increased/improved public access to the lake and the wetlands.
“Other benefits will take time and will depend upon the public consultation process and what council thinks is in the best interest of the community,” he said. “We hope to see this property lead the re-development of Athalmer and spur other economic and business opportunities in the neighbourhood for the benefit of the community and the valley.”
“This piece of property is at the gateway to our town and we should be presenting something special for all to enjoy,” said Miller.
The potential purchase is one of the topics you can discuss in person with members of the DOI council at their coffee talks in Invermere on Feb. 20. You can find the councillors at The Bakery at 9 a.m., The Bistro at 10 a.m. and at The Circle Café at 11 a.m.
There will also be an open house later that evening at 6 p.m. at the DOI council chambers.
Lead image: Some of the Lake Windermere Resort property in the mid/centre of the shot. e-KNOW file photo