Since 1993 when the District of Lake Country was a part of the Regional District of the Central Okanagan, the docks in Okanagan Centre have been a source of debate and occasionally contention between neighbours.
The issue came up again at the June 19 Lake Country council meeting, and council voted for a sea change in district policy.
Council voted to take ownership of the private docks on the public beach front as of September 2013.
How councillors and the public felt about the decision went two ways: either the District of Lake Country should honour existing grandfathered agreements with dock owners, or the owners of the docks had enjoyed essentially private access to public land for too long and everyone should have unimpeded access to Okanagan Lake.
Only Mayor James Baker and Coun. Penny Gambell opposed the motion to take possession of the docks.
The discussion leading up to the vote was raucous, both on the part of council and members of the public.
Gary Baird is an Okanagan Centre resident and one of the dock owners. He said the dock owners are very disappointed in council’s vote. “The owners lived up to their obligations. Council decided not to honour the grandfathered clause in a decision to not respect previous council’s decisions. I think everybody is a little shell-shocked at the decision.”
Baird feels the grandfathering clause that was made as a compromise in 1993, was working well. Ultimately the dock owners had been hoping to have it renewed for five more years.
At the meeting, several dock owners said the docks are a benefit to the public and generations of Lake Country residents had enjoyed the use and benefit of the docks while private home owners maintained them.
“Everybody is welcome to go to the beach and enjoy the amenities,” said Baird.
While the dock owners feel there is an open understanding about the docks, many of their neighbours came out strongly against that contention at the council meeting. The comments in opposition to license renewal focused on the perceived unfairness of some homeowners being able to have docks, while others could not. The issue of public use of private amenities also came up.
Councillor for Okanagan Centre Lisa Cameron was in strong support of opposing renewal of the dock licenses. Cameron read her statement to council and her arguments to support community wide fairness and access to the shoreline in Okanagan Centre appeared to sway the majority of the councilors.
Cameron made the argument that as Lake Country grows there needs to be changes that keep pace with the community. The Greenspace plan is simply that—a plan with no legal imperative that binds the present council, the council’s consent to the docks is what makes the docks licenses legal and without that consent the licenses are not legal.
The current OCP, which supersedes the Greenspace plan, calls for public land for public enjoyment and Cameron said it is time for council to move forward on the issue, especially as many members of the public are not aware of which docks are on public land.
“Things change. The Wild West was then, this is now,” Cameron said “The Regional District of the Central Okanagan was then; the Municipality of Lake Country and current council is now. The 1993 Greenspace plan was a document providing guidance over the district’s public space,” Cameron said.
“Now our incorporated municipality has the 2010 OCP which does not support private encroachment of public land.”
As it stands, council has voted to transfer ownership of the docks from private to public hands in September 2013. No one is particularly certain what will happen then.
Cameron believes the coming 15 months offer plenty of time to put a plan in place to ensure the docks remain a public asset, whether that is using existing structures or replacing them.
Mayor Baker was not so sure.
“Without grandfathering, people can take them, demolish them, or sell them I suppose. Unless people abandon them to the Crown, we are not honoring the agreement and they are not ours.
A municipality can’t expropriate without compensation, or for the public good, then it becomes a court issue.”