The City of Castlegar’s effort to solicit public feedback on its Waterfront Master Plan through an open house Thursday night turned tense.
While some Castlegar residents attended the meeting to learn more about the Waterfront Master Plan, many were already divided into camps for and against.
The tension between the two groups intensified when Kat Enns, a riverfront property owner opposed to what she believes is the city’s plan to put a trail through her backyard, took the floor to voice her opposition.
Some of those attending the open house stopped to hear what she had to say, but others continued to browse through the city’s posted information and have their own discussions, which led Enns’ supporters to shush them or ask them to leave the room if they were going to continue talking.
Enns’ speech was followed by a second, given by former Castlegar mayor Audrey Moore, who was also opposed to a waterfront trail.
Chris Barlow, chief administrative officer for the City of Castlegar, then took the floor to say that the materials on display were not for a construction plan, but for a master plan, which would have to be implemented in stages over a longer period of time.
“This isn’t a construction plan. … There is no construction plan for next year to start to push a pathway in from one end of the town to the other. That’s not what this is,” he explained later. “This is to build a master plan so that over the next 50 years, however long, we can understand how we could take the opportunity to interact with the river and how we can build that in as the city grows.”
Barlow also addressed the idea that the plan calls for a trail from one end of town to the other.
“I understand some of the messaging behind that and some of the confusion around that, but that’s why we were very excited about tonight’s meeting to be able to show the public that that’s not the case. We’ve heard what some of their concerns were, which were riparian rights and we’ve done a lot of work around that. It’s noted right within the plans,” he said.
But Enns and the 350 people who have signed a petition opposing such a trail aren’t convinced that isn’t what the city has planned.
“The petition really just asks that they consider removing the current plan from the OCP, from the Official Community Plan, and revising it to reflect some of our concerns about trails that are adjacent to private waterfront property and on areas that are covered by our riparian rights,” said Enns.
Enns and other riverfront property owners started the petition back in May when a group of them first met to discuss the Waterfront plan. They met again in June before attending the city’s Waterfront Master Plan Visioning Workshop on June 15, and have met since.
Enns said she is frustrated that the City of Castlegar did not meet with riverfront property owners before seeking wider community input and is frustrated that the city has still not met with just the riverfront property owners.
“Two of us were allowed to go in and talk to the CAO [Barlow],” she said, but then said that she didn’t feel Barlow was listening to their concerns.
Enns also said that the Waterfront Master Plan has been divisive and consensus certainly seems to be that the issue is controversial.
People who attended the open house, both for and against the plan, either refused to speak to the Castlegar News on the record or agreed to speak only if they could do so anonymously, due to the controversy.
“I’m absolutely opposed to the trail that the city is proposing,” said a riverfront property owner, who has lived riverside for about 45 years, has been a resident of Castlegar since 1966 and who signed the petition.
“I’m definitely in favour of it,” said another riverfront property owner, who has lived in Castlegar for nine years and lived on the river for eight, and who believed a trail would improve his property value.
On display at the open house were posters detailing waterfront property owner riparian rights as well as upland ownership — private, municipal and Crown.
Nine posters also showed a map of the waterfront, marked with existing routes, preferred routes (including those that would require the consent of private upland property owners), potential flood routes, potential upland or alternate routes, way-finding connections and potential lookout points.
All of this information is available in PDFs at castlegar.ca/waterfrontmasterplan.
The map of North Castlegar shows a section of private properties along the river bank highlighted in blue and marked as “Transition Policy for Waterfront North.”
“Those are what you call transition areas. … A lot of those areas are prime for redevelopment and that’s why the importance of having these plans is that as these areas redevelop, if you have a plan in place, then you can gain access to the riverfront or you can build in riverfront access through the redevelopment,” Barlow explained.
Having a transition policy in place for these properties means that in the event that a developer came forward requesting a change in zoning or the consolidation of several lots to accommodate a development, the city’s policy would allow it to request river access — whether that’s a trail, river access or viewpoint access — in exchange for accommodating the developer’s request.
For those who were unable to attend the open house, an online questionnaire is available at castlegar.ca/waterfrontmasterplan until Friday, Dec. 8.