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Writer’s Block: The Battle of Galloway Lands

Free Press columnist Bill Phillips on the play so far when it comes to the Galloway development proposal

Who really needed to watch the Battle of Alberta when we have the Battle of Galloway Lands?

In case you missed it, here’s the latest (although hang onto your hats, it seems to change every day). The proposal to develop land between the ski hill and Mount Fernie Provincial Park (which for some reason is nowhere near Fernie Mountain) went before RDEK board members who rejected it in a 9-6 vote; then they brought it back, just like the cat, the very next day for a public hearing that was slated for this month; then the developer, Handshake Holdings, withdrew its application/requested more time (this depends on who you talk to); this opens the door for new application that will, according to Handshake Holdings, address all the issues raised at the planning meeting where the original rejection took place.

This, of course, doesn’t address why those issues weren’t already addressed because they were largely the same ones that were raised in January when this first went before the RDEK board.

And how do you address the fact the City of Fernie simply doesn’t want the development to proceed?

Sentiment from some directors, at the meeting when this was originally rejected, was that the RDEK should work with Handshake Holdings (or any developer, for that matter) to see how they can move forward.

Fernie Mayor Ange Qualizza, however, made it pretty clear the City of Fernie’s position is it simply doesn’t want housing in that area. Why then would, or should, the city help the developer iron out the kinks? And, judging by my highly-scientific coffee shop talk polling method of ascertaining gossip … er, facts, certainly a lot of people in town support her position. So how does Handshake Holdings square that peg? Likely by convincing other directors around the board table.

I certainly felt for Qualizza after last month’s dramatic turnaround at the board table. It was like scoring a Game 7 overtime winner only to have the goal brought back because one of your teammates was offside (Colorado referees notwithstanding).

While Handshake Holdings is pumping social media and the Free Press with ads explaining what it wants to do, it all comes down to the 15 members of the Regional District of East Kootenay board. That’s who Handshake Holdings has to convince.

It was undoubtedly clear to Handshake Holdings after the planning committee meeting that its support at the board level was tenuous, at best, and that cosmetic changes and assurances at the June public hearing wouldn’t be enough to win the day, so it withdrew its application. That’s not surprising, nor is it uncommon when developments are in the early stages.

While I have no doubt Handshake Holdings will come back with an application that deals with many, if not all, the issues raised at last month’s planning committee meeting, its biggest challenge will be changing the minds of those who simply don’t want the development, regardless of what it looks like, and capturing the vote of at least eight regional district directors.

The Battle of Galloway Lands continues … stay tuned.

-Bill Phillips is a 30-year veteran of journalism. He grew up in Fernie, and began his career at The Free Press in the 1980s.

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