The Village of Kaslo has begun reviewing its official community plan. Photo: John Boivin

The Village of Kaslo has begun reviewing its official community plan. Photo: John Boivin

Kaslo begins Official Community Plan review

The document provides a blueprint for growth and development over the next two decades

by John Boivin

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice

What should Kaslo look like in five years? What should Kaslo be like in the year 2040? This fall, residents of Kaslo will be able to weigh in on just such topics in a series of live and online meetings.

The Village of Kaslo is updating its Official Community Plan, the document that provides a blueprint for growth and development over the next two decades. On paper – if you’ll excuse the pun – the plan is a technical guide to land-use planning. But to get to that point, the Village will go through a wide-ranging community consultation about residents’ goals for the future, what values they think make Kaslo special – and how to protect them.

“It’s a high-level document and it deals primarily with land use and how the community will develop over the next five-10-20 years,” said Village CAO Ian Dunlop. “But to do that it has to take in other parameters, such as the idea of social well-being, because that kind of shapes the development we want to see in the community over the next number of years. So there’s all these other themes that influence what goes into the plan.”

It’s the first time it’s been updated in 10 years – twice as long as is the usual practice – and a lot has changed in that time, says Kaslo Mayor Suzan Hewat.

“I feel that all sections should be given a thorough review so they are current and responsive to today’s reality,” she says. “Some sections will naturally need more work than others due to the changing realities in our world, such as climate change and economic and technological advances.”

The committee overseeing the overhaul of the OCP began meeting this summer to plan how to proceed for the 10-month process. On Aug. 30, they met to try to firm up plans for public consultation and communication.

‘Soft opening’

The first chance for public consultation has already taken place – a display booth at Kaslo’s 128th birthday party on Aug. 13. The committee thought a ‘soft opening’ to the process would give the public a chance to weigh in on most aspects of the plan, and to see if the committee’s first shot at goals and values jives with public sentiment.

Just 22 people approached the booth for information, and half those gave written input. But OCP project co-ordinator Brian Montgomery said they did hear a variety of topics important to the public – including ‘keeping the small-town feel,’ ‘no more Air BnB’s’ and (somewhat contradictorily) ‘encourage tourism.’ Then there were more specific ideas like ‘painted crosswalks.’

To try to determine local values, citizens were also asked what they love about Kaslo. Among the responses indicated were the small-town accessibility, the lake and mountains setting, and the sense of community.

And while the committee had identified three broad topics for the OCP to review in depth – ‘Environment and Sustainability’, ‘Housing and Future Growth’, and ‘Social Well-being and Health’ – only the first two of those were priorities for the public that weighed in at the booth. ‘Land Use Planning’ and ‘Infrastructure’ got more votes for discussion over the coming months.

The committee will use the feedback to continue to develop their consultation plans.

COVID-dependent

But just when community workshops will take place remains in limbo. New COVID restrictions announced last month complicate the consultation process. Meetings were supposed to start in late September. Now, the earliest would likely be late October to November.

The when, where, and format of the meetings is still being settled. To maximize the ways of getting input, staff will also look at setting up a system for people to file their thoughts to the committee via paper mail, email or some other online means.

In the meantime, staff are developing a newsletter that could be distributed to homes in the village. It will explain what an OCP is, why it’s important, and some of the details that will be discussed over the coming months. However, the final draft was still being completed, and should be ready in time for the next meeting.

The committee also approved staff applying for a grant to reach out to Aboriginal governments about the Village OCP. Any major planning or development process by a municipality these days has to consult with local First Nations who might be affected. Dunlop told the committee a $5,000 grant could be applied for to help support the process.

While agreeing to go for the funding, just who the committee would consult with came up for some debate. Some argued that up to seven other First Nations governments have some interest in the Kaslo area. But the committee heard from cultural anthropologist Dr. Craig Candler, who indicated the primary government Kaslo should consult with is the Ktunaxa Nation Council and its Yakan Nukiy band (the Lower Kootenay Band in Creston), as they have the closest historic and modern connections to the area.

“Might also be useful to note that Yakan Nukiy is also the community that now owns the Ainsworth Hot Springs. It’s also the community that those sturgeon-nosed canoes that visited Kaslo used to come from…,” he wrote. “If you want help getting something reviewed by Yakan Nukiy or KNC, let me know, am happy to help. Main thing is Kaslo needs to start recognizing where Kaslo is.”

Heritage values

The Kootenay Lake Historical Society also weighed in early on the discussion, offering its view that heritage values should be front-and-centre in the OCP planning.

“We feel that it is important to continue to preserve the authentic historic character of the village,” a letter to the committee said. “It provides an authentic backdrop and draws visitors to the area which is an economic benefit to the community.”

Among the issues they want to see discussed are improvements to the Design Review Committee and the design guidelines it follows.

Mayor Hewat she hopes more individual citizens and community groups will take the time to give their input into the process.

“I feel that the document should represent all demographics and reflect the realities of today while hopefully being forward-thinking,” Hewat told the Valley Voice. “Ideally, we will be able to conduct some in-person meetings where thoughts and ideas can be articulated and respectful exchanges can occur.”

The committee will meet again on Sept. 27.