Lake Country mayor welcomes growth

In the first 11 months of 2016, all previous construction start records in Lake Country’s 20-year history as a district municipality were broken.

The 2016 construction value has already exceeded $91.5 million. On average, there have been 76 single family residences built annually in the municipality, but 2016 saw 142 new homes built.

Mayor James Baker said all that economic growth has been a welcome relief to the municipality’s tax coffers, providing a basis for building up reserves and adding new amenities long in the planning stages as outlined in various community growth masterplans.

Baker said looking back at 2016, the district undertook a number of infrastructure projects—road improvements to Bottom Wood Lake, Woodsdale, Sherman and Greenhow roads with bike lanes and pedestrian walkways included; deteriorating section of Carr’s Landing Road was redone; Seymour Sewer lift station was upgraded; universal water meters installed across the community; and Development Cost Charge bylaw initiated to collect funds from land developers to ensure development revenue pay for roads, drainage, water and sewer services for projected population growth.

And the demands for infrastructure upgrades and expansion will continue in 2017, as areas in Carr’s Landing, Winfield and Oyama are still not on the municipal water system.

“That is something we would like to see addressed moving forward,” he said.

When Lake Country was first incorporated, the population then was 6,000. Today with the recent growth spurt of the last two years, the population is pushing 15,000.

Baker credits that growth to the rural ambience of Lake Country coupled with being located halfway between two major Okanagan urban centres, Kelowna and Vernon.

As well, the establishment of UBC Okanagan and expanded traffic and flight service at Kelowna International Airport has paid growth dividends for Lake Country.

“I think people now find the commute a lot easier north and south on Highway 97, land prices are less costly than Kelowna or Vernon, tax rates are lower, the densification is not as great and we have a lot of greenspace which we want to protect in the years ahead,” Baker said.

Complementing those factors, Baker added, was the continued promise of developing the Rail Trail, which he sees as a big economic driver for the district’s long-term future.

While the cost of a study was cut from next year’s budget, Baker is also optimistic that Lake Country can land a major hotel /conference centre, again citing the Rail Trail tourism draw as a key potential incentive for such a project.

“We have big sports tournaments and events here but there isn’t enough accommodation so people have to stay in Kelowna or Vernon and come here. Bed and breakfasts and short-term rentals can only go so far. We need a bigger venue,” he said. While growth is expected to continue in 2017, Baker said the challenge will be to preserve and maintain Lake Country’s rural atmosphere, enhanced by the fact 46 per cent of the municipal land falls under the Agricultural Land Reserve.

“We don’t have the space that other larger municipalities in the Okanagan have to spread out densification.

We will be good to grow up to the 20,000 range in population but not much more, although I guess that can change too when you start looking at development land density use.

“But we are a ways from getting to that stage. We want to keep as much open rural space as possible.”

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