Home » The battle for the Marysville Benchlands

Posted: October 19, 2017

The battle for the Marysville Benchlands

By Michelle Forbes

Op-Ed View

(Please note:  Correction: the previous version of this column stated that the Cranbrook council had spoken against the sale of the Benchlands. The piece has been corrected to state that it was a former Cranbrook council member who cautioned against the sale.)

A battle is being waged for the Marysville Benchlands.

In recent weeks, City of Kimberley Mayor Don McCormick has been putting all his effort into the sale of the Benchlands, both with the Minister of Environment, and working to sway the public opinion to believe that this sale is the only way to attract business to Kimberley.

At the same time, Councillor Bev Middlebrook has been fighting equally hard to convince people that these lands should be rezoned for recreation, and kept as park land and trails for Marysville residents, claiming businesses can be brought into Kimberley without giving up these precious natural resources and beloved lands.

No one will dispute that bringing new business to Kimberley is something needed, nor will anyone dispute the beauty and majesty of the vistas and views from the top of the Benchlands. So with both sides claiming gross misinformation from the other side, this article attempts to gather as much information as possible from all sides to allow the public to form their own opinions before contacting city hall to help them understand public opinion.

Sullivan Machine Works president Noah Wesche presented a proposal to council to bring his advanced technology company to Kimberley.

This would be good for Kimberley’s economy, and McCormick claims it will help bring other businesses to Kimberley, once the deal is made. Both Wesche and the mayor claim that only the entirety of the Marysville Benchlands will make the sale possible, and both Councillor Middlebrook and Wildsight have claimed that this land is not appropriate for development and should be kept wild, no matter how good a new business venture might be for Kimberley. While both are fully in support of new businesses, both believe alternate lands can be found.

The Official Community Plan (OCP) claims one of the main ‘Key Land Use Changes from 2005 to 2017’ is increased land area to be designated for industrial use, which will support employment growth, attract businesses, and offer opportunities for expansion. According to the OCP map, (page 3) 9.7% of Kimberley is zoned for industrial.

The Benchlands is a minuscule part of that land. If so much of the land is zoned for industrial, the mayor’s claim that the Benchlands are the only plot of land that the city has for sale is perplexing. The backlash from residents seems to contradict his claims that the Benchlands have absolutely no recreational use, and the sale will not disrupt the trail systems.

After a group of concerned citizens approached Wildsight, they sent a letter to council, in which Wildsight claims that this sale will bisect the trail system, and that the sale is in opposition to the city’s OCP.

Middlebrook has said that the development plans from Sullivan Machine Works stated that it will need to take out the pathway system to make it work. With so many opposing ‘facts’ arising, it is hard to figure out where the truth lies.

The mayor has stated that if we want to attract businesses to Kimberley the city needs to have land available. So where is the land?

Wildsight Interim Branch Manager, Sonja Seher, believes that the city should look at density of use, clustering businesses together where services are already available, instead of dolling out one million taxpayer dollars to introduce all the services needed out to the Benchlands, for only one business. Wildsight, Seher stressed, is very much in favour of bringing in new businesses, but believes that taxpayer dollars are better spent upgrading current infrastructure, and using existing water, electrical, and gas services available in other sites close to the Benchlands.

If more services are needed, Wildsight believes it should be somewhere that will service several businesses, not just one, allowing the Benchlands to be rezoned as recreational, keeping them accessible to both people and wildlife.

The mayor has claimed that the phrase “industrialization of our recreation lands” is misguiding people, as the lands were never meant to be recreational. He also claims that the lands will not be industrialized, as Sullivan Machine Works is part of the fourth industrial era of high tech industry, which is more environmentally friendly.

Councillor Middlebrook states that since the “plan” for the proposed building currently has no specs or square footage, and is speculatively based on buildings from other countries that it would be similar to, there is no way to know how much of the land it would take up and what the footprint of the building would be. With plans still so early, Middlebrook believes it is very unwise to sell the lands on promises of what “might be” done with the land.

There has been tremendous public opinion floating around since this has come to light, and strong, and sometimes very loud arguments give their voices in support of both sides.

The biggest controversy is for the people of Marysville, either living beneath the bench, unconvinced that the development and business going in will have no effect on them, and those who do not want to lose their trail system. The mayor states that Bootleg Gap and Rails-to-Trails are available as trails to Marysville, but for those who do not want to walk on a golf course, or with bikes whizzing past them, the trails are important, regardless of the mayor’s claim that the Benchland “is not a desired piece of land for anything but business” and that it “does not include any of the VolksMarch Trail.”

With over 50% green space in Kimberley (as seen in the OCP map), the mayor says selling this Marysville parcel of land should not affect anyone. The vast majority of the green space is Kimberley’s Nature Park and ski hill, which are not as accessible as some of these other lands and not accessible to Marysville residents.

Wildsight maintains that although this area is post industrial, it is much more intact than many of the other lands around it, which makes it so desirable to keep, with more habitat features for wildlife, more mature trees, less invasive species, and a better land to enjoy for the people of Marysville.

Perhaps that is exactly why the mayor wants to sell it – because it will take less work to reclaim it before they sell. But the exact qualities that make it attractive to one, make it attractive to the other, and no one believes that both sides can co-exist.

Middlebrook says that while the area needs to be kept public, she is not against responsible, sustainable development of environmentally responsible off the grid architecture, similar to what has been done in the works of art to attract and house artists and writers, as has been done on Fogo Island in Newfoundland.

She feels this would help showcase the stunning views the Rocky and Purcell Mountains, the rolling hills and amazing vistas, which are unparalleled in the area, all in environmentally sustainable artist retreats. This would encourage tourism, attract people to Kimberley, create art to coexist with nature, all while keeping the wheelchair accessible unpaved pathways of the Benchlands for all to enjoy.

A surprising voice in support of the Benchlands came from a former Cranbrook Council member, who warned Middlebrook that Kimberley’s council needs to think carefully about selling their best lands and best views. The former Cranbrook councillor said that the council resented the outcome, after they lost some of the best public lands to private corporations. Cranbrook is interested in bringing business into this area, with their joint Cranbrook-Kimberley Development Initiative (www.ckdi.com)

So, if not on the Benchlands, then where? There are plots of land that are for sale (not from the city, but from Teck or other sources) that already have buildings on them, with all the necessary services in place, making them more practical options, allowing businesses to get up and running more quickly and easily, and at less cost to the taxpayers. If those options do not work, a city serious about bringing in more businesses would need to discuss some sort of industrial park area – area that is reclaimed, has the environmental studies done, services all ready to go, and sell it as the place to come to do business.

One business is great for Kimberley, but having a city plan that can actually bring businesses to Kimberley would be much better.

However, city hall has not debated the matter yet or held votes – at least not in meetings open to the public. There is contradictory information claimed by all sides. Perhaps there are different definitions of what the Benchlands actually entail. Perhaps there is worry that if the city cannot entice this business with the best parcel, the best view, and the best lands, the city will not be able to attract any businesses. Perhaps once the debates open in city hall, they will find that there was some misunderstanding. But that will have to wait for debate.

This article is not here to debate the necessity of attracting new businesses to Kimberley. Everyone, on all sides, is 100% in agreement that we need to attract new businesses to Kimberley. It will be good for Kimberley, and for the economy.

Perhaps the mayor will be able to satisfactorily explain why the Benchlands must be sold. Perhaps another alternative will arise. For now, the questions remain: Is the Marysville Bench the only land that can be sold to attract businesses? If so, how will Kimberley be able to attract any more businesses after the sale? And if this one piece of land is so controversial, why is the public not being consulted? Once the land is sold, where does Kimberley go from there?

Coun. Middlebrook urges anyone who feels strongly about this matter to write a letter, an e-mail, or sign a petition, to let city council know that these lands are important to the people, and should stay public and accessible. If not, as Cranbrook pointed out, once the lands are sold, there is nothing anyone can do. The city and council need to know if the public want the area developed or kept. As Middlebrook said, “The people need to be involved in saving it, or it will be gone forever.”

So ask yourself, what legacy do you want to leave for Kimberley’s future?

If you would like to voice your opinion to council, here are some options: 

To sign the petition to zone the Marysville Benchlands as recreation, click here.

Write to mayor and council at: 

Mayor and Council

340 Spokane Street

Kimberley, B.C.

V1A 2E8

Or by e-mail at:

[email protected]

[email protected]

[email protected]

[email protected]

[email protected]

[email protected]

[email protected]

Lead image: A view of a portion of the Marysville Benchlands. e-KNOW file photos

–  Michelle Forbes, originally from Calgary, Alberta, has three children, co-owns The Kimberley City Bakery, and is the driving force behind The Kimberley City Bakery Medieval Festival, which has been entertaining the Kootenays for 3 years now. When she’s not busy with her other projects, she enjoys writing, and sharing items of interest in the community with readers through e-KNOW, as well as writing children’s books and songs for her own children. Watch for upcoming information about her writing website to follow her other writing endeavours!

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