Town of Osoyoos administrators are scheduled to meet with the Desert Park Exhibition Society (DPES) board this afternoon in an effort to resolve a stalled renewal of a lease agreement for the popular West Bench agri-recreational property.
The meeting comes with some urgency — the Society heard Monday the stalled lease agreement has already harmed the society’s winter training bookings.
“The lack of lease renewal news has spread to trainers who are looking at other options for winter training,” reads an email distributed to Society board members.
“Unless there is a simple renewal by next council meeting without new red-line surprises added as in the last lease offer, then the (Desert Park Exhibition Society) operation is in jeopardy once more.”
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 an existing lease expiring November 28, the Town and Society board are working on a renewed License of Occupation.
Negotiations hit a snag in October, however, when the Town introduced a lengthy list of concerns, including, among others, permanent RV parking, stockpiled manure, the current practice of removing puncture vine, grandstand or recreation building improvements, special events and excavation processes.
Chief among the concerns, however, was a violation of 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.”
The Town has indicated to the Society the items needed to be addressed and included them in the renewal document.
Administration also took the proposed agreement to Council November 21, specifically looking for direction on the Society’s request for an exemption from the Town’s Good Neighbour bylaw.
Council initially voted on one of three options included in an attached report — to renew the lease without including the Good Neighbour exemption.
A tie vote — with Mayor Sue McKortoff and Counc. Mike Campol in favour of the motion and councilors Jim King and Carol Youngberg opposed — meant the measure was defeated.
That brought a second vote — for Council not to renew the agreement “at this time.”
In the 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.
“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 November 21 wasn’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.”
A day after the Council meeting, Town of Osoyoos CAO Barry Romanko confirmed 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.”
The Society, however, says the other Town concerns also need to be addressed. It has prepared a response to the Town and will present it this evening.
The hope is the Town will work with the Society.
“Unless the Town agrees to a renewal at (its) next meeting there may be no purpose in a renewal,” a Society member fears.