A turnout of about 90 people was on hand for a hastily arranged meeting for Ootishenia residents on Monday night, January 27.
The inspiration for the Ootischenia Hall gathering was the City of Castlegar’s bid to receive first consideration by the provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure if, and when it may decide to sell a parcel known as the “gravel pit lands.”
The parcel, 25 hectares or about 61 acres in area, is situated along the east bank of the Columbia River, south of the Kinnaird Bridge, and its acquisition through a process including municipal boundary extension is desired by the City of Castlegar.
The Monday night group came out to hear RDCK Rural Area “J” Director Gord Zaitsoff speak against the proposed annexation. Also on hand was RDCK chief administrative officer Brian Carruthers and Darrel Gunn of the transport ministry. Carruthers offered insights gained in his experience as both a civic and regional manager.
Asked during the meeting if the City of Castlegar had been invited, Director Zaitsoff said the event was called in order to get some kind of consensus together for later presentation to the City.
There was a concession at the outset that the City had done nothing illegal or improper in the process. Sentiments expressed over the course of the 90 minute session, however, suggested that uncertainty and mistrust of the municipal government across the river were central pillars of the issue.
Many local residents spoke of the value of the area as a thoroughfare for both people and wildlife, and declared strong opposition to any sort of development that would negatively affect the relatively peaceful nature of the property. Comments focused on the pride of residency, in being a distinct community. Worries were voiced over the idea of more and more of the area eventually being absorbed by the City of Castlegar.
Some asked why the Regional District could not get involved, and perhaps even get in the running for ownership… to which CAO Carruthers responded that the regional body had no present inclination, nor funds for such a bid.
Director Zaitsoff cited a past history of non-cooperation with the City, particularly on this very subject, and urged a greater level of teamwork in future.
“The City is always interested in acquiring developable land,” stated director of development services Phil Markin earlier that day, adding that it is simply going about pursuing just such an acquisition, in a legitimate fashion.
Pictured below: Ootischenia resident Michelle Donaldson, Darrell Gunn of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, and Electoral Area “J” director Gord Zaitsoff
The meeting concluded with an aura of solidarity among the attendees. Before filing out, people were encouraged to demonstrate their feelings on the matter by getting in touch with various authorities.
Florio Vassilakakis, had taken in the proceedings from two vantage points.
“I’m an Ootischenia resident and I’m a city councillor,” he said. “I’m here to support the neighbourhood but I’m also here to listen, as a city councillor, to the concerns of the greater community. It’s clear that there is some distaste for Castlegar itself and that’s kind of unfortunate.”
Vassilakakis credited Zaitsoff and Carruthers for “doing a very good job of saying the City of Castlegar isn’t doing anything wrong and the City is just going through the process the way it’s supposed to.” He acknowledged, however, that a lot of the people in the room were upset. He said he felt it’s “…a little bit premature to be attacking the City for potential land uses. We’re all people and we respect our neighbours. We’re not going to do anything that’s bad for the relationship we have with our neighbours.”
Before any land purchase may even be negotiated, permission to extend it’s municipal boundary would need to be given to Castlegar by the provincial Ministry of Community, Sport, and Cultural Development. The City would also apparently require a successful “alternate approval” process to have been carried out by February 3 in order for the procedure to be allowed to continue.
For all of the discussion on the matter, there appeared to be no clear adversary, and little evidence of animosity, even as the proceedings drew to a close. For example, Gord Zaitsoff’s parting comments to the Castlegar News:
“I don’t see anything going in there that wouldn’t be beneficial, not only to the City, but the area in general,” he stated. “In the past I was looking at obtaining that property through the Regional District for a seniors’ complex and a regional hospital, that’s how this whole thing started, back in… 2004, I believe. The City might very well have intentions to utilize that for a regional hospital.”