Blewett residents will have the chance to say yay or nay to an official community plan in their part of the Regional District of Central Kootenay.
Area director Ramona Faust announced Friday that due to ongoing discontent there, she’s asked for a plebiscite to be held with a simple yes-or-no question.
“We’ve had very mixed results to public opinion gathering in Blewett,” she said in an interview. “I figured a plebiscite is the only way to solve it and let everybody be heard and not feel intimidated.”
It hasn’t been decided whether a mail-in ballot or ballot box will be used.
About 80 people attended a public hearing last month on the proposed community plan for Area E, which also includes Balfour, Harrop, Procter, and Queens Bay. Out of 100 written submissions, 64 opposed the plan, 13 supported it, and another 23 asked for changes or just provided comments.
“I believe it is not necessary, and that Area E is managing development of lands well without this bylaw in place,” Therese Marken wrote.
Opposition came from several communities, but was strongest in Blewett.
“I, and many of my neighbours don’t think it was us that asked for this,” resident Jim Demers wrote in a recent letter to the Star. “Yet the planning plan has been steamrolled ahead as if everyone was on board.”
Faust says she believes an organized group has been encouraging people to reject the plan “based on incorrect information,” but admits the 60-page draft document is “rather daunting.”
“Maybe a lot of people will go by hearsay and that will be what calls the day,” she said.
Although Blewett will get to vote, Faust says for the rest of her constituency, staff will incorporate comments and suggestions and come back with a second draft. Some property owners have asked for changes in their land designations, which Faust says will be honoured as long as they don’t conflict with provincial designations.
Changes will also be made to reflect various concerns, including that industry was left out.
“Mining particularly, has taken umbrage at the fact we haven’t stipulated they exist and we focused a lot on recreation,” Faust said. “We’re going to add some language about the historic importance of mining and resource industries.”
Once they know if Blewett is in or out, another public hearing will be held before the bylaw is put forward for adoption, Faust said.
She noted a 2010 survey suggested a majority of residents wanted growth and development managed, but not everyone was convinced a community plan was the way to do it.
Faust says a common misconception is that such a plan will lead to a tax increase when in fact her area has already been paying into the planning budget for years without much benefit.
“Their taxes certainly won’t increase if they get an official community plan, but they will be getting their money’s worth,” she said.
She also insisted if the plan is adopted, it won’t mean the regional district “crawling around people’s backyards. We simply do not have the time, interest, nor capacity.”
The plebiscite is non-binding, but Faust says she will respect the majority decision.
“I have no wish to impose this on a community that doesn’t want it,” she said. “But then neither will I be able to assist people who have concerns in their neighbourhood.”