Fake palm trees, real wind and technical glitches in first-ever virtual public hearing in Kamloops

Meeting with residents via Zoom, council rejected projects in Dallas and the West End, but gave the nod to a development in Westsyde.

They came equipped with palm trees and petitions.

In the first public hearing of its kind amid the pandemic, Kamloops residents turned up online in full force on Tuesday night to weigh in on a string of new proposed projects, resulting in more than two hours worth of public submissions via Zoom teleconferencing software.

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On the table at the public hearing were:

• discharge of a covenant in Dallas to pave way for an Otter Co-Op gas bar/car wash/convenience store/drive-thru restaurant and card-lock facility facility;

• rezoning of a West End property for a 16-unit townhouse development;

• rezoning of Westsyde land for a new residential subdivision.

Council would ultimately reject two of the proposals and approve just one.

Dallas was the hot-button topic, with nearly 200 people opposed via two petitions, letters to council and comments made at the first -ever online public hearing. Concerns included semi-truck traffic, noise and light pollution near a residential neighbourhood. The property, at 7750 Dallas Dr., was zoned to allow for the proposed gas station, convenience store and restaurant, but restricted by a covenant prohibiting the use. The reasons for the covenant were not known city staff, but suggested by a Dallas resident to be in place to protect residential properties.

In addition to the aforementioned impacts on nearby homeowners, one resident noted a cardlock facility already exists on the other side of the highway.  

“Putting another one on this side of the Trans-Canada Highway in a residential area … doesn’t make sense to us,” the Dallas resident said. “We have quite a few people who are upset about it.”

Residents appeared to be largely concerned about the potential for the facility to become a 24-hour truck stop. Guy Mercier, representing the numbered company applicant, rejected that suggestion and touted the project as a $10-million investment that will provide jobs at a time of economic uncertainty.

The information was enough for Dennis Giesbrecht, president of the Dallas Community Association, to give pause, having videoed in from the proposed cardlock facility location in a first-of-its-kind moment in pandemic-era public engagement that seemed better in theory than in practice, due to unco-operative windy weather.

The information, however, came too little, too late and residents still had more questions and concerns than answers. 

Coun. Dale Bass is a Dallas resident and said the area is already busy with traffic. She took to heart the community opposition and noted one resident’s suggestion the developer could minimize plans. 

“When it’s a drive-thru and car wash and cardlock, all I’m seeing is insane traffic, which is not appropriate in that neighbourhood,” Bass said. 

Council voted 5-3 to defeat the application, with councillors Bass, Sadie Hunter, Kathy Sinclair, Arjun Singh and Denis Walsh opposed and Mayor Ken Christian and councillors Mike O’Reilly and Bill Sarai in favour of lifting the covenant. Coun. Dieter Dudy could not vote on the matter, as technical issues led to him missing the Dallas portion of the public hearing — one sign this new wave of public engagement needs some work.

During the public hearing for rezoning of 992 Fernie Rd., one resident, expressing concern about the impacts of the project on his quiet West End neighbourhood, popped up on the screen with a tropical background, complete with palm trees. The colourful background showed the human aspect of the public hearing, relating it to experimentation with technology by many amid the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Fernie Road residents appeared to be united — also with a petition of 16 names — in their opposition on Tuesday, citing concerns about a land swap deal by the city that would result in the loss of makeshift neighbourhood park space and old-growth trees. Other concerns were the addition of 16 units with the potential to be rented out on a quiet street and the impacts of that on traffic and parking. Also referenced was council’s previous decision to reject a densification proposal on Chukar Drive in Dallas, where three homes were proposed to be built on a single lot. Staff said the West End area, however, is one deemed ripe for infill as part of citywide plans for densification. 

“It’s too many people,” Fernie Road resident Nathan Fennel said. “It’s too much.”

The neighbourhood opposition was “hard to ignore,” according to Dudy, and council voted 6-3 to oppose the application. Councillors Bass, Dudy, Hunter, Sarai, Singh and Walsh opposed, while Christian, O’Reilly and Sinclair voted in favour. 

Meanwhile, council approved the rezoning of two properties (2598 and 2599 Elston Dr.) in Westsyde to allow for a 15-lot subdivision, with only Walsh opposed. Council appeared to take note of traffic concerns in the area, however, after residents asked the city to consider how the area is changing as a whole, as another subdivision is apparently still in the works for the same street. 

Following decision-making, the city’s first digital public hearing wrapped up just before 10 p.m., nearly three hours after beginning.

© Kamloops This Week


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