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Tension high over Harrison cultural hub petition

Mayor and residents had differing views on the transparency around the proposed hub and land sale
Conceptual drawing for the proposed civic centre in Harrison Hot Springs. (CHP Architects)

Conversation between Harrison resident Ed Wood and mayor Leo Facio about the village’s proposed cultural hub could be described as less than genial at Tuesday night’s council meeting (Oct. 1).

Wood came as a delegation before council, speaking about his petition against the cultural hub and the proposed sale of portions of the overflow parking to pay for it. Wood had begun canvassing Harrison residents in late summer, and received 247 signatures in opposition to the plan that would see a 10,000 square foot civic and cultural building built next to the current village office.

RELATED: Harrison resident petitions against proposed cultural hub

“We all know about the gravel quarry petition and the frustrations of not being heard,” Wood said during his presentation. “This petition is ours, the residents of Harrison Hot Springs, and in the control of Harrison Hot Springs’ mayor and council.”

The cultural hub, which includes some community space as well as increased administrative space for council and village staff, is currently waiting on the results of a grant application from earlier this year. The results of that application won’t be known until after the federal election this month.

The petition was received as correspondence rather than a proper petition, as corporate officer Debra Key said it did not include residential addresses for the signatories and therefore could not be received as a petition according to Section 82 of the Community Charter.

However, according to Harrison Hot Springs Council Procedure Bylaw No. 1002, petitions need to include the subject matter, date of the petition, the name and signature of each petitioner and their mailing address. Wood’s petition did include the mailing address for each signatory.

RELATED: New civic building proposed for Harrison Hot Springs

On the whole, the councillors’ responses to Wood’s presentation were reserved.

“If we don’t get the grant, it’s not a topic for discussion in any event, and if we do get the grant, then obviously we’ll have to figure out some way to address these issues or perhaps not proceed,” councillor Gerry Palmer said, adding that the petition caused him some confusion, because it dealt with both the cultural hub and the sale of the overflow parking lot land.

Councillor Samantha Piper agreed.

“It’s not clear in the petition if it’s this or that,” she said. “I do applaud the effort from everybody, and I will take that into my consideration as we move forward.”

Councillor Michie Vidal, appearing at the meeting via telephone, spoke largely in favour of the cultural hub, saying that she respected the time he put into the petition, but that “the construction of a civic hub building … would serve the needs of our community well.”

Councillor Ray Hooper, in contrast, was guarded in his statement about the building and said “I support the petition, greatly.”

“I’ve always felt many residents don’t get involved enough in our village,” he added.

Hooper had been opposed to the sale of the overflow parking lot since the beginning, saying in January that removing portions of the lot would create problems for nearby residents. He still voted in favour of submitting the grant application, despite his reservations about parking.

RELATED: Parking concerns plague proposed Harrison land sale

Although delegations are meant to include a 10-minute presentation and a 10-minute question and answer period between council and the delegate, Facio spoke for 16 minutes about why the civic building was needed, why the overflow parking lot was purchased in the first place and the support he said he’s received from other dignitaries.

“Back in 2017 we started this process, myself and the federal minister regarding a community centre” he said, adding that 2018 saw CHP Architects hired for $18,000 to do the architectural plans for the cultural hub.

Facio went on to talk about feedback he said he received at a Harrison open house in April, where CHP Architects presented their drawings of the hub, which had already been submitted for the grant. CHP said residents were primarily concerned about the amount of cultural space in the building, and not whether there should be one at all.

“We continually kept this at the forefront, with informing the public, it’s nothing new,” he continued. “We’ve received 16 letters of support from MLAs, MPs, local societies.”

“The council, previous councils and this council, have done a very good job of informing the public on how this has been moving forward,” he added. “We’ve been very transparent.”

During Facio’s speech, audience members became increasingly agitated, often speaking under their breath about the perceived level of transparency around the grant application.

At one point, Facio said: “We’ve gone a year advertising this and nobody has said a word, not even the open houses. The opportunity was there to say your piece: we don’t want it.”

“I said that,” several audience members broke in, briefly drowning out Facio.

“Just a second sir, I’m speaking,” Facio said. “The most that came out of that was the size of the gathering space.”

Later in his speech, when Facio said that if residents want to be involved in their community, they either have to come to a council meeting or come to the open houses, Wood proclaimed: “respond to your emails then.”

“Sorry sir, I’m speaking,” Facio replied. “You have an opportunity at questions from the public.”

RELATED: Harrison council gets heated

This exchange went on a few more times in the next several minutes, before Wood left the council chambers as Facio was still speaking.

Conversations about the cultural hub continued into question period at the end of the meeting, largely revolving around the public hearing that will determine the public’s opinion on whether the overflow parking lot should be rezoned to allow for three-storey mixed-use buildings.

In order to pay for the proposed cultural hub, portions of the overflow parking lot are being considered for sale to developers. If the grant application for the hub does not go through, it’s unlikely it would be sold.

The public hearing, which does not yet have a date, will focus solely on the rezoning of the site. Although it seems that many residents who are in opposition to the cultural hub will be present, they will not be able to speak about the building project, as the public hearing is just to gather input on the proposed rezoning and not the potential sale.

Whether or not the cultural hub will be able to go forward will depend largely on the results of the grant application to the federal government, which would see up to $4 million of the civic facility paid for through the Investing in Canada Infrastructure program.

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