Sicamous council is gambling on the approval of a proposed commercial development prompting, the B.C. government to improve traffic safety on Highway 1.
After an hour’s deliberation, which included limited public input, council supported a development permit application for the construction of a gas bar, convenience store and drive-thru at 1305 Rauma Avenue (the former Extreme Power Sports location on the Trans-Canada Highway, adjacent to Tim Hortons).
District staff have confirmed the application is for a Centex Gas Station, and includes illustrations of a drive-thru Starbucks. As proposed, both would be in compliance with the district’s official community plan and zoning bylaws.
Only Coun. Janna Simons voted against the application, explaining she isn’t opposed to the development, but is concerned for public safety in relation to an already known traffic issue – semi-tractor trailer traffic parking on the shoulder of the eastbound lane of Highway 1 so their drivers can access the Tim Hortons.
While all of council shared Simons’ concern, other councillors sided with Coun. Malcolm Makayev, who recommended approval of the permit, arguing it would force the Ministry of Transportation’s hand to address a matter that is in their jurisdiction.
“We’ve been trying to get the Ministry of Transportation to address this issue for two years; they haven’t done anything on it…,” said Makayev. “It might not be politically correct to say, but I think we have to move forward with this development and use it as leverage to show them there is a problem…”
Makayev said he was concerned for public safety, but by moving the development forward, it might help improve the safety of the corridor.
Discussion on the application began with Coun. Jeff Mallmes expressing his concern for a lack of parking on the development site, as well as the semi parking on the highway.
“The Trans-Canada Highway is a parking lot,” said Mallmes. “Another coffee establishment with no parking is just going to make a bigger parking lot on the Trans-Canada Highway. I’ve had near incidents on that Rauma intersection on the TCH because of the semis parked in front of that subject property… and all the way down the highway.
“It’s a dangerous intersection as it is. The only thing that I can suggest is that that development makes that intersection more unsafe than it already is.”
Coun. Gord Bushell said it’s been a decade since the district has seen a commercial development proposal, and asked if there was any way council could get MOTI to sort out the problem.
“Because most of this problem is traffic issues, it’s a Trans-Canada Highway problem,” said Bushell.
Akbar Laiwalla, spokesperson for Centex Petroleum, said the partners behind the development could add onsite parking and would support council’s opposition to highway parking, but added what happens on the highway is beyond their control. He also stated the Starbucks wasn’t a certainty, that it could be a different service altogether.
In response, council said they weren’t concerned with Starbucks, but with highway traffic, parking and public safety.
District planner Melinda Smyrl told council that because the proposed building is less than 4,500 square metres, MOTI would not be responding to a referral on the development. Makayev, in turn, acknowledged, “the buck stops with us.”
Asked what might happen if council did not support the application, district administrator Evan Parliament recommended council defer the matter, so as to give staff time to acquire a legal opinion, and to contact the ministry yet again.
“This application warrants a second phone call or email… to bring attention to this area because you’re going to see more trailers on Highway 1. You’ll see it on the northside, westbound (lane)…,” said Parliament, noting that while it may not have jurisdiction on the highway, district council, under the province’s Community Charter, has authority when it comes to public safety.
“I know council supports the application in principal, but this issue of public safety comes up. Allow us to contact MOTI and maybe there’s a compromise on what we can do to provide some extra space, some temporary space for parking on the north side, westbound, because that’s going to be a huge issue. Because if we don’t ask the question, no one will deal with it.”
Mallmes questioned why Parliament would want to accommodate more highway tractor-trailer parking.
“We don’t want parking on the north side, we want those trucks to just keep rolling through town,” said Mallmes. “Or they can park at the Husky and walk, I don’t care.”
But Parliament said he was trying to deal with the reality of the situation, that semis won’t stop stopping.
“I agree with you, I don’t want them to park and I don’t want them to stop, but they’re going to,” said Parliament.
After learning the developer wants to have the project completed by next summer, Makayev suggested members of the public sitting in council chambers be allowed to speak. Garry Devos, who lives on Rauma behind the subject property, said he didn’t want to see another gas station in the community. He also suggested tourists are just as big of a concern as the semis.
“These people that have trucks and trailers that are way bigger than semis ever will be, they’re turning off the highway going here, there and everywhere, only to find out they have nowhere to go,” said Devos.
Traffic on Rauma was a repeated concern, and it was suggested the addition of another business would make Rauma a zoo for people who live there.
Mallmes eventually sided with Makayev, saying he couldn’t see how the district could stop the development. Nor could he see MOTI taking any immediate action.
“Like Coun. Makayev says, your answer from MOTI is probably going to be, ’It’s not happening right away, and if it does it’s not going to be what you want to hear anyway,’” said Mallmes. “They’ll just tell you, ‘wait until somebody gets killed.’ So maybe we do need to make an example out of that intersection.”
Mallmes said he voted in favour of the development fearing “it could bring harm to the district in the form of a lawsuit.” He suggested that in the future, prospective commercial developers talk to council first before the process reaches the approval stage.