The first question posed by a member of a new volunteer planning group that met for the first time Tuesday was whether the whole thing was a big waste of time.
It seemed like a good question.
It reflected the skepticism some feel toward the city's effort to draw public input on the fate of municipally owned waterfront lands in the South Pandosy neighbourhood.
Some think the fix is in with the charrette, the fancy French term mysteriously used for the planning exercise.
Critics believe the city is secretly committed to selling a portion of the 2.5 acres of land for residential and commercial development, and having public access to the waterfront provided only through a boardwalk and fairly narrow green strip.
This view is so well-established in some quarters that it was something facilitator Frank Ducotte tried to address head-on during his opening remarks to the 33 volunteers who gathered at St. Paul's United Church.
A diversity of participant views on the fate of the municipal lots is not only understandable, it's welcome, Ducotte said. The important thing as people advance those various viewpoints, he said, is that everyone be respectful toward one another, maintain an open mind, and try to think of what's in the community's best interest.
All fine words. And then were immediately challenged by a
panel member who suggested everything was "pre-cooked" to ensure city council gets the
recommendation it desires for mixed-use development on waterfront lands.
Ducotte, an SFU urban design professor who's obviously had some experience with highly opinionated folks, refused to be drawn into the spat the panel member seemed to be craving mere minutes into the daylong session.
The city's long-held vision for mixed-use development on the site is "something we're going to explore," Ducotte said mildly.
And city staff then stressed whatever recommendations the group comes up with - keep the entire site as parkland, go for the mixed-use approach or some other idea entirely - will be dutifully relayed to council.
"What you create here over the next couple days will be taken to council," said Graham Hood of the city's real estate division.
If there's any fix involved, or any "pre-cooked" notions, they are almost certainly held by most of the volunteers now participating in the planning exercise.
The head of a KLO neighbourhood association said before the meeting his group is firmly in favour of making the entire site parkland. Individuals representing the development community undoubtedly will push for the mixed-use approach.
So good luck trying to find some common ground between those viewpoints.
The likely leanings of other
participant members can be
reasonably assumed from the groups they represent. Members of the Naturalist Club and other local neighbourhood groups will probably favour the all-park idea, while those representing business and construction groups will probably endorse the mixed-use strategy.
The decision-makers in terms
of coming up with the group's
recommendation by Thursday's deadline might well be the handful of participants whose names were chosen at random from the 50 or so people not obviously
affiliated with any special interest group.
In fact, it might have been better for the city to just assemble the whole group in a random fashion. Pluck names from the phone book, phone people out of the blue and ask if they'd like to participate in an important planning
exercise, and fill up the available spots that way.
At least then, those chosen to get involved wouldn't be going in with pre-conceived notions - freely acknowledged or clandestinely-held - of what's the best future for the municipally owned South Pandosy waterfront lands.
Of course, the ultimate decision rests, as it should, with the nine people who've actually been elected to represent all the citizens of Kelowna.
The mayor and council - not a group of busybodies, blowhards and developers - are the only ones with the legitimacy and the authority to say what happens to the South Pandosy waterfront.
So the real question isn't if the fix is in with this week's charrette. It's why it's even being held at all.
Ron Seymour is a Daily Courier reporter whose column appears Wednesday and Friday. Tel. 250.470.0750. Email: