Kelowna native Todd Davis has been flying model airplanes since he was six years old.
Other members of the Kelowna Radio Controller’s Association (KORCA) have been at it longer. One member of the club is nearly 90 and had been making the trip to the club’s fly zone in Lake Country twice a week as his lone recreational pursuit.
But that was until last week, when Davis, the president of KORCA, and the rest of the club, were grounded when a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled in favour of the District of Lake Country (DLC) in a court case, ruling that the use of model airplanes is not a permitted use of agricultural land.
“When we moved here everything fit within the zoning bylaws and Lake Country gave us full approval,” said Davis. “But then the neighbour started to complain, things changed. We have members from age five up to 90. Some of these guys, it’s their only reason for getting up in the day. It’s the only thing they do. For a lot of our members it’s heartbreaking.”
Despite the fact the club had the approval of the land owner to utilize a portion of a 20-acre parcel of land, the district went after the club to shut it down, saying it was in contravention of the proper use of agriculture land. The DLC asked the club to apply for a temporary use permit to try and work out the issues. But when talks broke down this spring on a solution to the dispute, the DLC took the club to court.
And late last week the courts ruled the club was in contravention of a Lake Country bylaw and has issued an injunction to restrain the operation of model aircraft on the land that is protected under the Agriculture Land Reserve.
“It’s unfortunate it had to go to court but model aircraft were never considered as something that could be used on agriculture land,” said Lake Country Mayor James Baker. “One of the neighbours is [raising] farm eggs and frying chickens and it was affecting their business. It was detrimental to agriculture rather than complimentary.”
The bylaw in dispute limits the use of land within the Agriculture Land Reserve to uses related to farming. While the ALR has a provision to allow for a non-paved airstrip for airplane use related to farming, the court ruled flying model airplanes did not fit that description.
And while the DLC says it’s pleased the court ruled in its favour, a small sampling of the public reaction in Lake Country is leaning towards siding with the model aircraft club. Several public postings to Lake Country’s own Facebook page announcing the ruling questioned why the club had to leave.
“Very sad for my 87-year-old father who is, I believe, the oldest member of the club and makes the drive from Kelowna twice a week,” wrote Tammy O’Rielly. “They received approval when they moved there and have spent a lot of money fixing that field. [It’s] Lake Country’s loss and taxpayers who foot the legal bills. Shame.”
“I can see and hear them from my balcony,” stated Colleen Stone. “We are sad to see them have to go. Too bad the complaints of a few wreck the enjoyment of many.”
“I live in this neighbourhood and I am sad to see this decision,” said Elaina Kohlhauser. “They were wonderful to see twisting and turning in the sky.”
As for Davis and his club, where they go from here is up in the air. Davis says they did everything they could to become a solid member of the community, making improvements to the field, making it wheelchair accessible and even donating close to $1,000 to the Lake Country Food Bank from a fundraiser.
“We take pride in giving back to the community,” he said. “It’s a shame Lake Country doesn’t want us. I don’t know what we will do now. Finding a suitable location in the valley is next to impossible with all the urban sprawl.”
The model aircraft club began operation in the late 1970s near Sexsmith Road but has had to move several times as Kelowna and area has grown. From Sexsmith, the club went to Black Mountain but were forced to relocate to Lake Country due to future plans of the Black Mountain Irrigation District.