Tight Oct. 27 deadline to comment on Johnson Heights work camp proposal

City hall development services staff is recommending Revelstoke City Council approves at temporary use permit for a worker camp in Johnson Heights at its Tuesday, Oct. 27 meeting.

A proposed Johnson Heights worker camp will funnel more traffic through the Oak Drive T-intersection with the Trans-Canada Highway. Photo: Google maps image

The City of Revelstoke Development Services department is providing residents up until 1 p.m. on Oct. 27 to provide comment on a proposed work camp in Johnson Heights, and the camp could be approved at Revelstoke City Council’s meeting starting at 3 p.m. the same day. 

The Mountaineer was first to report on plans for a temporary construction worker camp in Johnson Heights in an Oct. 16 story. The news of the temporary worker camp came in an Advisory Planning Commission report, which means the report had limited information focused on the committee’s role of reviewing and commenting on form and character matters.

Read our initial report here.

Now, a full city staff report on the proposed development has been published. It recommends that city council approves the proposed ATCO trailer work camp at its Oct. 27 meeting, a very tight timeline for a proposal that has already garnered significant opposition from neighbours in letters submitted to the city so far. 

In the report first published on the City of Revelstoke’s website on Friday, Oct. 23, Development Services director Marianne Wade recommends that city council backs the controversial plan to construct a worker camp with 60 residents and 75 parking spaces. The temporary use permit (TUP) would allow the development for three years, but it can be renewed for another three years.

The camp, built out of five clusters of ATCO trailers, would house 60 construction workers and a 75-vehicle parking lot. 

Why can’t the camp be located near construction at Revelstoke Mountain Resort?

The camp, which will be used as temporary housing for construction workers building a new hotel at Revelstoke Mountain Resort (RMR), is located kilometres away from the construction site. One of the first questions residents raised was why it can’t be located at RMR? 

In the report, the city development services department relays RMR’s arguments: “RMR reviewed temporary site options on the Resort Lands and Westside Road. Development on these lands was determined not to be feasible due to servicing constraints and need for significant re-grading to create a flat site. Any sites that may have been suitable on the Resort Lands are either in use or are the subject of the proposed construction works over the course of the next three years.”

In a letter distributed Oct. 23 to media and council, RMR president Peter Neilsen said the camp was necessary to house construction workers for the hotel and golf course project, and that no suitable land was available there.

“We also explored options to build temporary work force housing on Resort-owned lands, but the proposed build sites were not deemed feasible due to service constraints, topographic issues, or conflicted with the permanent build sites,” Nielsen wrote.

The report also says there was an attempt to locate the camp on Westside Road, but that didn’t work due to servicing issues.

The report also says the workers will help build worker housing at RMR, but notes the application for that project has not been submitted.

There is little exploration of other alternatives for the workers in the report.

What about the dangerous Oak Drive T-intersection at the Trans-Canada Highway?

The city report contains a significant contradiction on the issue of safety at the Trans-Canada Highway and Oak Drive T-intersection. Staff say they reached to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure for comment, but because the development is under 4,500 square metres, it didn’t trigger a MOTI review.

However, in other sections the report says the development is 4,837 square metres. We have reached out to city staff for clarification, and although development services staff picked up the phone, they said they were not able to comment on the issue, saying all media questions needed to be routed through corporate administration. No answers to our requests came by end of day Friday.

Update: Regarding the area question, on Oct. 26, a city planning department member said the 4,500 threshold related to floor area of the buildings, not the lot, and the floor area would be about 1,500 square metres.

The staff report said they looked back at crash data at the intersection from the past 10 years, saying there had been 11 crashes and “no fatalities.” No data on injuries is presented. The report goes on to minimize highway safety concerns, saying about the crashes: “the majority attributed to single vehicle; wildlife related; or weather related and not directly attributable to intersection safety.”

Anyone who lives there knows it’s a dangerous intersection where a devastating accident can happen anytime. Residents have long called for improvements to the intersection and a second access to Townley Street.

The report also states that traffic data says the peak trip time is noon, and that the construction workers will be leaving in the morning. It says a shuttle service will be available but provides little detail.

Read the report

If you’re invested in the issue, it’s important to read the documents and provide comment, but be aware that the document is designed to get the temporary use permit approved. Nevertheless, there are many other issues to explore, such as policing, environmental sensitivity of the location, more on traffic issues, and more.

Here is the link to the staff report.

Analysis: A potential watershed moment for a council halfway through its term

It’s been two years since the all-first-term council was elected, now down to five members due to a councillor resignation in January. They’ve had ample time to assert their influence over city affairs and should be aware the training wheels are now off and they will own this decision, regardless of their level of involvement to this point.

The nature of working in any planning department is staff interact with developers and their requests all the time. However, with any development, there are other stakeholders with defined legal interests, namely every existing property owner and resident.

At every turn, the report reaches into city bylaws, procedures, and rules to seek justifications for the development. Absent is wording that considers interests of Johnson Heights residents, many of whom have written in opposition of this proposal already. In fact, the report minimizes their concerns. This comes at the same time the city is trying to advance its Johnson Heights OCP neighbourhood plan.

As one of the feedback letters in the council package notes, this proposal could jeopardize public trust in the OCP process. Johnson Heights resident Ashley Borne writes: “I would urge the council to consider how a lack of community support for this proposal could cultivate mistrust, undermine the success of Revelstoke’s first Neighbourhood Plan and create opposition towards the TUP as a new planning tool throughout the broader community.”

The Temporary Use Permit system (TUP) is new, brought onto the city books in 2019. Without it, this proposal would not fly; additionally, any similar controversial proposal that comes through the normal development application process would play out over several meetings and usually require a public hearing. Not so under the TUP, where it can be rushed to the council table with short notice and the barest minimum of outreach as required by law: a notice in the newspaper.

The issue is not just the proposal itself, but also how city staff is going about it.

On a personal note, I started reporting on Revelstoke City Hall in 2008, and I haven’t seen anything like this rush to railroad an entire neighbourhood. That it comes at the same time the Development Services department is attempting do a neighbourhood plan as part of the Official Community Plan process is terrible timing.

It should be an interesting council meeting on Oct. 27. Currently, due to COVID-19, city council meetings are not open to the public, and there is no media question period. However, the meetings are available for webcast on the city YouTube page.

To submit your feedback on this proposal, the official email is admin@revelstoke.ca, and the city council email is council@revelstoke.ca.

We invite and encourage readers to comment directly on this story.

Aaron Orlando is a Revelstoke-based journalist who serves as creative director of revelstokemountaineer.com and Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine. He's been on the news beat in Revelstoke for the past 14 years, serving in senior editorial roles. If you have aaron@revelstokemountaineer.com or call/text him at 250-814-8710.