A very contentious zoning text amendment in front of Regional District of North Okanagan directors received unanimous third reading Wednesday.
But only after considerable opposition and debate were heard.
Canadian Airboats Limited, which operates in the 6900 block of Heron Road on Swan Lake, is seeking to amend the zoning text to allow an airboat and wind machine manufacturing, sales, service, rental and repair business with an existing accessory residential building. The company, owned and operated by Guy Inkster, also has requested a 2,700 square metre outside storage and manufacturing area.
Inkster has been at the property since 1996.
Ten written submissions were introduced at a public hearing. Almost all were opposed to the application, citing noise and damage to nesting areas and the shoreline. Two were not opposed to the business, but were against the noise.
At the hearing, 13 people rose to speak against the application.
“This is obviously not an easy topic,” said board chairperson Bob Fleming, also the electoral Area B director where the company is situated and operates. “Some people would just like to see it gone. We get that. It’s a business that’s been operating for 26 years, and for at least part of that was almost certainly compliant with portions of the home-based business regulations.
“He’s no longer compliant. He’s trying to comply with things we’ve put in front of him.”
Carl and Gail Peter live on L&A Road, three kilometres above Highway 97 and the airboat business. They have no problem with the applicant expanding his buildings. The Peters want a guarantee Inkster will not be test driving, running or renting his boats for use on Swan Lake.
“He has previously ran his boats year-round, the noise is deafening to humans and very dangerous for nesting and residential bird life,” said Carl Peter. “We can be vacuuming, have the stereo on and have all the windows closed, and despite being three kilometres away we can hear him loudly above everything else.”
Julie Oakes owns and operates Headbones Gallery on Old Kamloops Road, across the lake from the business.
“We enjoy the quiet of where we live. When the airboat comes on the lake, we’re always aware of it,” said Oakes. “There are benefits to quiet contemplation.”
City of Vernon resident Eunice Stockdale is very familiar with the lake from her experience as a naturalist and a dragon boat paddler. Stockdale called the lake a “jewel in Vernon,” and the business is dangerous to the water fowl that frequent the lake.
“Rapid over-water movement and loud noise are the categories most disturbing to water fowl and reduces their numbers,” said Stockdale.
Inkster patiently listened to the 10 letters and eight speakers in opposition before addressing the board. His business rents airboats to the Ministry of Environment for government work on the lake, but not to the public. He also took exception to “at least 30” letters of support not being read into the hearing.
“We appreciate everything RDNO has done; they’ve come down and talked to me about the noise,” said Inkster. “I think we’ve established a respect level between us and I want to continue that level of respect.”
Inkster said his company tries to be respectful to wildlife and the foreshore, and is aware of nesting areas on the lake.
“We don’t freelance through the reeds,” he said. “We are aware an airboat going over a nest will wreck the eggs. We don’t blindly run our airboats.”
As for the boat’s noise, Inkster said the machines are noisy but do have mufflers.
“Most of the noise comes from the tip of the propeller,” he said. “We try to operate in the middle of the day and try to restrain from operating early in the morning.”
After 45 minutes of public debate, directors discussed the application for another 45 minutes.
“It strikes me there’s room for both sides to come to consensus,” said Hank Cameron from Area E Cherryville. “I think noise is the factor that most affects wildlife. The operation on the lake could be restricted in such a way it would be more acceptable to the residents of the area.”
Rick Fairbairn, from Area D rural Lumby, said there’s an obvious problem for directors, dealing with a non-conforming business that hasn’t been addressed.
“What are his options? Either conform or we close him down, it’s one or the other,” said Fairbairn. “He’s addressed a lot of the issues concerning noise. Maybe if we apply some additional restrictions that can address some environmental issues I’ll support it.”
Fleming said the board and staff are doing their best to find a balance.
“This is to look for significant improvement,” he said. “It’s probably not perfection from a lot of people’s point of view and there’s a balance to be achieved here and I think we’re aiming toward that.”
After 90 minutes of discussion on the application, and with only electoral area directors allowed to vote, third reading was passed unanimously by a 5-0 vote, but not before directors added three more recommendations to the application to consider before adopting the bylaw.
Inkster must register a covenant to ensure there are no airboat rentals on Swan Lake; he must confirm he is in compliance with the riparian area regulations and his hours of operation must be addressed.