The Galloway lands residential development proposal passed a major bureaucratic hurdle on Thursday (Jan. 13) with nine Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) board members voting in favour and five voting against.
The vote, held by the Planning & Development Services Committee, was to recommend the introduction of zoning and Official Community Plan amendments to RDEK council for first and second readings.
Director Ange Qualizza (Mayor of Fernie) and Director David Wilks (Mayor of Sparwood), who represent Elk Valley constituents on the board, both voted against introducing the amendments for first and second reading.
Qualizza cited fire safety concerns and potential infrastructural costs down the road, among other things, saying the application needed a lot of work before being introduced. Wilks also cited fire safety concerns, but said the biggest concern for him was increased traffic the development would bring to the Hwy. 3-Fernie Ski Hill Rd. intersection, which at present is the only point of entry for the development in the proposal.
Director Mike Sosnowski of Electoral Area A spoke in favour of introducing the amendments for first and second reading, citing the importance of hearing more perspectives on the issue before turning it down or referring it back to staff for further information from the applicant. The fourth Elk Valley director, Mayor Dean McKerracher of Elkford, voted to proceed but did not speak to the item.
Those who voted in favor spoke of a desire to hear more public input on the proposal, rather than kill it now at a committee level. Director Don McCormick (Mayor of Kimberley) noted that proceeding past committee level did not mean the project could proceed, as there were ‘four or five’ stages at which it could be denied in the future.
Prior to the directors vote was a series of presentations on the proposal from six delegates, five of whom had critical perspectives on the issue. The sixth delegate (and the first to present) was Richard Haworth, land-use consultant for the proposal, who defended and gave an overview of the project on behalf of the proponent. Most of his presentation was a re-iteration of points made at a recent virtual open house that the developer held in early January.
Other delegates were Jay Zammit, president of the Fernie Snow Valley Community Association; Jim Miller, a retired engineer who has done municipality work in the past; George Greene, chair of the board for the Elk River Alliance; Stella Swanson and Leslie Frank, subject-property-adjacent landowners with environmental and engineering experience and Randal Macnair, Wildsight Elk Valley conservation coordinator.
Each were highly critical, but failed to sway the majority of directors in their recommendations to either slow the process, or stop it entirely.
Concerns from the five delegates in opposition broadly revolved around a few main points: ecological conservation and wildlife habitat and corridor maintenance; road and traffic safety; fire safety and suppression; water and septic concerns.
Letters from Interior Health, the City of Fernie, Resorts of the Canadian Rockies (RCR), and BC Parks were also included in the meeting agenda for consideration.
The only letter among the four that expressed support for the proposal was from the RCR, though they also had caveats and concerns, one revolving around potential future development contemplated in their OCP, and the others requesting a hydrology study and traffic impact analysis be done, and urging consideration of the impact of multiple septic fields on potable water sources. Each property would have its own septic system, with no connection to municipal lines.
Letters from the City of Fernie staff, BC Parks and Interior Health were skeptical of the development, requiring additional information to be gathered.
The City of Fernie staff cited land use (the property is within a corridor of land that could ‘potentially’ become part of the city) and the cost of infrastructure and fire suppression, while BC Parks expressed concern over habitat conservation and corridors, proximity to Mt. Fernie Provincial Park, and impact on bike trails, and Interior Health focused in on drinking water and wastewater systems, as well as a perceived “incongruence” between the housing needs of the area and the housing types proposed for development.
The decision on Jan. 13 was a recommendation from the planning committee to proceed to board-level decision.
The final decision on whether or not to introduce the amendments for first and second reading will be made at a Board of Directors meeting Friday (Jan. 14) morning. If the BOD accepts the committee’s recommendation, the public hearings would be next in the process. The board is made up of the same directors as the planning committee, and votes rarely change between meetings.