A longtime eyesore in downtown Penticton is going to stay that way for a while longer.
Council voted against a variance that would have allowed the owner of a vacant lot in the 300-block of Main Street clean up the lot and install the basic upgrades to turn it into a parking lot.
The lot has been vacant for 16 years, since the Three Gables hotel burnt down in 1999. In the years since, the lot has been informally used as parking, though it has never been properly graded and has a rocky and uneven surface with exposed concrete in places.
Benches installed along the Main Street edge in 2009 by the Downtown Penticton Association have also become a hangout for after hours drinking and drug use according to owner Raj Randhawa and local business representatives.
A deal worked out with the city’s planning department would have seen Randhawa improve the lot with basic, temporary parking needs while the variance would have freed him of the official parking lot requirements of a paved surface, landscaped islands and irrigation.
Randhawa said he still hopes to sell the property, and a fully paved parking lot would give the impression it wasn’t developable.
“We are not getting any benefits out of what is there right now,” he said. “Every July, I have to come up with $30,000 to hold onto that property. I need to generate some kind of income.”
Kerri Milton, executive director of the DPA, said they hadn’t been consulted on making the empty lot an official parking lot, but would be happy to see it cleaned up.
“It is the number one spot the RCMP get called to. Our big concern is the lighting. The landscaping needs to be updated and fixed, the rocks have to be smaller,” said Milton. “It is a dangerous area. It is where people hang out that we don’t want to have.”
Milton said the DPA would prefer to work with the planning department and Randhawa to come up with a plan that makes it look better, including better lighting and working with the RCMP, along with investigating options other than a parking lot.
“Right now it is nothing except for a garbage dump site. We don’t want it to look like a giant parking lot in the middle of downtown,” said Milton.
Tim Scott, owner of Cue’s Pool Room, also said not enough consultation had been done with the neighbours, though he was excited to see something happening with the lot.
“Everyone wants something to change here,” said Scott. “Those park benches actually attract the wrong element to the area.”
Coun. Judy Sentes agreed that something need to be done, but was opposed to a parking lot.
“I think there is enough parking downtown that we don’t need to put a parking lot on our Main Street, temporary or otherwise,” she said.
Coun. Tarik Sayeed suggested instead of parking, the land could be turned over to Incredible Edible, who have already installed a small community garden on the landscaped section. Coun. Helena Konanz suggested taking the park concept farther, in that the city could lease the land and create a pocket park.
Council might be overstepping its bounds to dictate what a property owner could do with his land, according to Coun. Max Picton.
“It has been an eyesore in downtown for many years,” said Picton. “It is a much better solution than what is there now. I would love to see that cleaned up sooner than later.”
Picton was the only councillor to vote against directing staff to do more consultation and bring the matter back to council at the Sept. 28 meeting.