Revelstoke Visitor Information Centre controversy at development review committee
They say you can’t fight city hall and win. But what happens when city hall clashes with city hall?
The answer, as it appeared at a Nov. 27 City of Revelstoke development review committee meeting, appeared to be whoever held rank.
The question at hand was the design of the new Visitor Information Centre complex on Victoria Road. The proponents are a partnership including the City of Revelstoke, the Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce and Community Futures Revelstoke.
They proposed the building, pictured left, to be located right next to Pharmasave. Importantly, they want to put the parking lot out front, just like Pharmasave, and would also create another parking lot on an adjacent lot next to the BC Liquor Store.
However, this proposal was panned by the city’s planning department, who said the proposal went against the city’s Official Community Plan and other zoning rules. Specifically, a parking lot out front created walkability issues for the department.
City planning director John Guenther said they wanted to “soften the strip mall feel” and proposed options including placing the building at the front of the lot, with parking out back. Those options were laid out in design drawings the city’s planning department commissioned a third-party consultant to do.
The planning department also suggested cutting the parking lot in half and putting angle parking on Victoria Road. The idea is to create a safer pedestrian sidewalk along Victoria Road which would be buffered by the angle parking.
Several proponents for the new Visitor Information Centre were at the 90-minute meeting. They expressed numerous objections to the planning department’s recommendations.
They said the proposed design fixes didn’t make practical sense, and that they came far too late considering the site had been approved by council many months ago.
“I think it’s extremely unsafe to have angle parking backing onto Victoria Road,” said City of Revelstoke Director of Community Economic Development Alan Mason.
He said one of the purposes of the building is to attract tourists in vehicles. “One of the goals of the Visitor Information Centre was to make it easy for tourists to come and access the services,” he said. “We continually hear complaints from tourists in the summer – and even in the winter now – that they had to drive around for hours to find a parking spot before they can come to the visitor information centre.”
Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce executive director Judy Goodman opposed the planning department’s alternative proposal. “It’s crazy,” she said. “It seems way out there to me.” She said objections like these late in the game would scare away other private investors.
City of Revelstoke Chief Administrative Officer Tim Palmer spoke as a representative of the proponents: “The partnership is at risk if it’s forced by the city,” he said, adding the proposed changes were “not doable, certainly not business friendly.”
He continued: “Planning has taken a strong, independent position from administration and council on this … I think that’s very clear.”
City planning director Guenther explained the department was following the rules as they are laid out in the Official Community Plan (OCP) “We’re not here to overturn that; we’re just here to provide as much guidance as we can through the OCP, and I say that the language has been there for some time,” he said.
Assistant planner Chris Selvig said the drawings and recommendations were meant to “create a dialogue.”
“Ideally we have that dialogue before too much work has gone into it,” Selvig said.
“If you wanted to shut down a dialogue, you would have sent those pictures,” Mason replied.
Pharmasave Revelstoke owner Stephen Hui also attended the meeting, supporting the proposal. “I’ve always liked pretty buildings, but when it comes down to form and function, they have to work. Basically, at the end of the day it has to pay the rent, it has to pay the mortgage, it has to pay the taxes.” Hui said.
In the end, the committee opted to approve the proposal as it stood, with few very minor alterations, such as a review of garden materials.
There was some question of the timing of the application. The proponents noted they had been working on it for many months. The formal development permit was filed with the city on Nov. 8, although the planning department did receive an informal submission in early October.