Battersby On Revelstoke’s Modern Struggles
Geoff Battersby sees division arising in the community. He believes there are several key reasons and has a few suggestions that could help Revelstoke through this time of transition.
“Number one is the Official Community Plan, which is ten years old. It is long past needing to be updated. That is a big community involvement process. There needs to be this kind of public input to see what the majority of people think the direction of the city should be,” Battersby says.
With regards to major developments, Battersby is wary of people accommodating all developer’s proposals. “The resort developers pay development cost charges (DCCs) and have to put steel on the mountain in order to be able to develop the property,” he explains. “Other developers that come in after the fact don’t have to put up any money, apart from DCC. Basically, Revelstoke taxpayers and a succession of city councils created this great opportunity for other developers to come in. Unfortunately, developers frequently don’t come in with plans and ask us if that is what we want. Certainly if I were a developer going into a community, I would have a meeting with the community first to see if there were valid objections and would seek acceptable changes to overcome them.”
Battersby is not against major development, but believes it needs to be well informed. “There is going to be more development in association with the resort. We know that, but it has to be in keeping with what the town is,” he says. “Developer’s ideas of what is good for Revelstoke are not necessarily something Revelstoke agrees with.”
Next on Battersby’s list is dealing with the prolonged time it takes to deal with permit issues. His idea is bold.
“I think city council should consider stopping all new major development,” he says. “Projects in the pipeline should proceed if approved, but no new major development for a year or two. We aren’t closed for development, but we need to get our direction clear and clean up the backlog. That won’t be well received by some, but it would give the city breathing room and the chance to get current so that rezoning, developments, etc. can be dealt with in a timely manner.”
As for dealing with the housing crisis? Battersby believes the city needs to get tough. “If you’re building a housing development, some of it has be to affordable housing. This is not unheard of in places where housing and space are at a premium,” says Battersby. “This ensures both diversity and a good mix of people from all walks of life.”
If the developer does not want to provide affordable housing within the project, Battersby recommends a five to ten percent tax should be levied on those developers. Those taxes can be placed into a community reserve for the city to build affordable housing. This sentiment was one of Michael Brooks-Hills pointed out at the All Candidate Forum.
As for the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), Battersby believes it is short sighted to focus development in that direction.
“People argue the land is not good for farming. Well, I think Terra Firma Farms has proven them wrong. There are many kinds of farming, especially with modern technology,” he says. “In the practical sense, community development should go up instead of out. Densification has been a focus of urban planning for years. The costs for infrastructure are far lower with densification and there are several sites suitable for high density housing.”
“The bridge connecting the Big Eddy to Farwell will be closed to traffic in the next few years,” he notes. “It will be for pedestrians and bikes only. Third street, which currently takes most of the traffic, is having issues with sloughing. There have been suggestions that we could close the compromised blocks, bring the green space to the river bank, redirect traffic down second and have a development on the second street side of the school grounds, thus preserving green space while being suitable for higher density housing.”
Regarding infrastructure, Battersby notes that big issues, like the sewer, need to be dealt with and it requires public consultation. “If people are well informed and understanding of our needs, they will be supportive,” he says. He uses the upgraded water plant as an example of community involvement.
“The water plant was upgraded in the early 90’s,” he says. “We put in a first class water treatment system. We created a committee and asked the people of the community who were interested in being part of it to indicate what their qualifications were and how they would be of help in that regard. The committee was established and, working with consultants, were given free rein to learn what the options were, what the costs were and what the best course of action was. Their recommendation was what was accepted by the city.”
There is, Battersby observes, a lot more skill in town than ever before. Committees of passionate and talented people have a lot of expertise to bring to research and problem solving.
“Infrastructure issues will just keep cropping up,” he notes. “We need another access to the resort, because the Illecillewaet bridge is getting to its best before date. I think we could do a lot more in the way of walking, biking and ski trails between the resort and areas of the community.”
With an entirely first time council being voted in, Battersby believes the biggest issue the community has been faced with has been the lack of continuity in council and city staff. In the past, people would usually run for two or three terms.
“In the past, there has been a big turnover in senior staff, especially planners and CAO’s. You have to have the flavour of the community to carry on,” he notes. Battersby believes one reason for senior staff turnover and councillors not running consecutively is because of social media and the harsh voices of those who criticize council and city staff.
“Things are getting nasty,” Battersby says. “I don’t know if you can blame that on Mr. Trump, getting people to think that being nasty is okay. Who needs that? City staff and city council have enough on their plates without all the negativity. Constructive criticism is fine, but should be be done in the spirit of being respectful and collaborative. It is okay to agree to disagree. Mark McKee and I disagreed on occasion, but we are still good friends.”
As for how the council can be the most effective, Battersby says that keeping an open mind is of prime importance. “Remember that it is an obligation of elected people to, as best possible, make decisions in the best interest of all citizens,” he says. “Revelstokians rightfully expect those decisions are well informed by council having been provided with thorough backgrounding by senior staff. Also, fully transparent public information sessions and hearings will make the job easier.”
For the future, Battersby wonders about the possibility of establishing a course in local governance for candidates considering running for council.
While Revelstoke’s challenges are unique to today, listening to talented and passionate people with experience can be beneficial to having a functional and productive council.
“Change is inevitable, but let’s make it change for the better,” says Battersby.