A noisy truck, at least one frustrated neighbour and what appears to be some miscommunication has stalled the renewal of an agreement that provides for third party management at Desert Park.
It all came to a head Monday afternoon when Town of Osoyoos Council voted not to renew a License of Occupation with the Desert Park Exhibition Society — even though that’s likely not what the four councilors involved in the vote wanted to do.
But both parties said the renewal should be an easy fix.
The society, a non-profit organization, manages and operates Desert Park’s 5/8-mile dirt race track, five barns, outdoor arena and 11 serviced RV sites. The society’s mission is to “keep the race track and facility open for equine activities, entertainment and recreational uses that benefit the Osoyoos community.”
With a license renewal in the works — the current license expires Nov. 28 — Town administration Monday was specifically looking for direction on the society’s request for an exemption from the Town’s Good Neighbour bylaw, which prohibits, among other things, the operation of “any motorized lawn-grooming or garden equipment in the Town before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.”
In a report prepared by Gerald Davis, the Town’s Director of Community Services, Council was told the Society uses a water truck — a very noisy diesel truck — as part of its effort to harrow the track over the winter months, a practice the Society says is critical if it is going to continue a winter training program that generates substantial operational revenue.
The Society harrows the track very early in the morning in order to accommodate the jockeys, who have their horses on the track for early-morning training.
“They do this very early in the morning (4:40 a.m.) and according to our Good Neighbour Bylaw nothing should be operated until 8 a.m. and nothing past 9 p.m,” explained Mr. Davis.
The early-morning work hasn’t proven to be a problem in the past but “this year we received a written complaint about the truck,” Mr. Davis added.
According to the Desert Park Society, though, the information provided to Council Monday isn’t accurate.
“The only time we had a complaint was Race Day in August and that was when the water truck went out early,” said Paddy Head, the society’s vice president. “We’ve never had a complaint about the tractor going out when the race track trainers are there training.
“The tractor that pulls the harrow around, you can’t really hear it up on the street — that’s why we’ve never had a complaint about the tractor.”
Ms. Head also disagrees with the society’s water truck being painted as a villain.
“(The water truck) doesn’t go out during the winter months,” she said. “We don’t use it at all — we get enough rain during the winter that we haven’t had to use it.”
Late this afternoon, Town of Osoyoos CAO Barry Romanko indicated there was some confusion at a late-October meeting town representatives held with Society board members.
“Gerald (Davis) and I discussed the truck noise issue today and we are both of the opinion that we left the meeting thinking that the truck was used more extensively,” said Mr. Romanko.
“If they would have clearly indicated its limited use, then we wouldn’t have drafted the report as it was brought to council. This is an obvious miscommunication that can be resolved in the next meeting with the society.”
Council initially voted on one of three options included in Mr. Davis’s report — to renew the lease without including the Good Neighbour exemption — but both councilors Jim King and Carol Youngberg had a problem with that.
“I guess what you’re telling me is the golf course can actually cut the grass before eight o’clock and their trucks are running,” said Counc. King. “If you had complaints, would the golf course get shut down?”
Counc. Youngberg was concerned about the loss the Town would suffer if the Society could not operate.
“They generate about $2.5 million of revenue (for the community),” she said. “With one complaint — that’s going to jeopardize the operation of the entire society? To me (that) seems just a little bit questionable.”
Counc. Mike Campol, however, noted providing an exception to the Society could lead to additional problems in the future.
“By exempting them from this bylaw, they could bring in machinery ten times as loud six months down the road and be exempt,” he warned.
The resulting tie vote — with Mayor Sue McKortoff and Counc. Campol in favour of the motion and councilors King and Youngberg opposed — meant the measure was defeated.
That brought a second vote — for Council not to renew the agreement “at this time.”
Noisy equipment appears to be just one issue the Town has with the park’s operation.
In a letter delivered to the society in mid October, Mr. Davis also detailed other Town concerns, including permanent RV parking, stockpiled manure, the current practice of removing puncture vine, grandstand or recreation building improvements, special events and excavation processes.
In his report to Council, Mr. Davis indicated these items “needed to be addressed in the renewal of the agreement.”
The Town, however, does see value in the society’s management of Desert Park.
“There are obvious benefits to the work of the group and the economic development contribution that it makes to the community,” Mr. Romanko said.
“The request made by the society was for an exemption from the bylaw, with no other options presented. This was the issue that was in front of council — are you prepared to approve a new license of occupation with an exemption from the noise bylaw?
“Council was not prepared to make that approval, but did send administration out to see if some other methods could be used to resolve this issue.”