A walk down by the old works yard will show something which, to many, is quite frightening. A new subdivision. It looks like Coalmont’s population is about to double. There are fresh white surveyers stakes in a row, even on the side that is zoned industrial, and signs with lot numbers. A pleasant looking little two story house with basement is already framed and construction is moving along. There is a sign advertising “Cottages of Coalmont” and suggesting that one “be active, live sustainably, have fun”. There are pictures indicating how one might do that, the most prominent one showing someone in a kayak.

There have been ads in the local papers: “Great Investment and Great price call fast!” which would make one wonder who the target market is. Someone who likes Coalmont, or someone who wants to invest in property development. A quick search on the internet will lead you to Silverado Investments Inc. who are listed as a BC company involved in renovations, construction, real estate, and development. A recent blurb frames them as “a land development company specializing in recreational property.” Another listing says: Silverado Investments Inc are real estate investment specialists who put people and projects together for profit and opportunity. So much for any focus on renovations and construction.

A newsletter from the North Shore Business Success Group has this to say: “Silverado is an investment group that looks for venture partners for emerging property markets. Silverado is not only looking for investors, but are also looking for people who can bring investors to them, for a generous finder’s fee. Either as an investor, or a “bird dog”, a favourable return is certainly possible.”

Silverado’s web site offers investment opportunities such as the Coal Creek Station Equity Investment in Fernie. This is a multi million dollar project with up to 33% annual property appreciation. Click on “homes and lots for sale” and you will see such projects as Princeton Hill Estates in Peachland, Joining those projects is The Cottages of Coalmont.

The webpage advertises a “land and cottage package”. Last month it also showed a picture from Otter lake rather than a picture from here which they still haven’t. In fact nothing is mentioned about the character, let alone the culture, of our town. The whole tone makes you wonder if Coalmont is even good enough for their target market, which one could imagine would be someone who would prefer Tulameen. It certainly looks like there is a disconnection here.

First Cottage Coming Up

This development has caused more discontent than anything else that I’ve seen here in the last few years. The coal trucks, which at one point even inspired a spike belt across the road, weren’t as unanimously unpopular as this. When I started asking around, I was actually amazed at how negative the community was about it. This was a hot topic and a lot of bad feelings were brewing.

I can’t write all the comments I’ve heard. Some of them are just sour grapes. One person says “The works yard has been dumping diesel there for forty years, it’s only good for a wrecking yard now.” That would make some sense considering the current zoning and the culture of the community, but it is easily dismissed. However when someone says: “I’m worried about the fire hazard of having them so close together” they bring up a serious safety issue that is less easily ignored.

High density housing always has issues. Certainly there has been, at least until now, a minimum lot size. Many people are saying: “How come they can do what we can’t do?” Part of the reason for larger lots is the problem with water and sewage. A well and a septic needs to be 100 feet apart to meet best practices, even with a type three septic such as the one proposed here. Any type of septic, however, is a potential hazard to a nearby well. A type 3 “green” septic is only clean if the owner maintains it as such, and it should probably be inspected four times a year. That is a lot of ifs for those with wells nearby and who are worried about infringement. It’s definately going to be difficult to meet best practices with the proposed “phase one” density of 11 new houses in the same space that we would normally use for only three. One would also wonder if a row of wells 25 feet apart might cause other water problems. Green technology or not, people are skeptical.

Everybody’s got something negative to say about it but one person seemed to sum it up when she said: “How come we weren’t told anything about this; no letter, no nothing?” Nobody likes the way that they went about it. There is a strong sense that outsiders are coming in and forcing a change on our town. Given the dirth of communication, it would be hard to argue otherwise. One would certainly think that something with that much impact on a town would be a matter for some official discussion. Wouldn’t the Regional District, or Silverado, or the developers, host some kind of public information meeting?

Perhaps the reason that RDOS hasn’t contacted the community is that, as far as I can find out, there has only been one development permit – for one house. The rest are still speculation. In fact there have been a lot of rumours because nobody knows. Some people say there are plans for up to thirty units. I don’t think that’s even possible. With current rules it looks to me like there is only room for ten units on Columbia, and fourteen on Main Street – if they can get them rezoned. That would be a lot of houses.

We can expect some growth over time, but a 50% increase overnight would be a disaster. Even twenty-four more houses would be a big concern. That many outsiders coming in at once would certainly devalue our town from the current residents point of view. It would make Coalmont much less desirable and unfortunately the property taxes would go up instead of down as they should.

There are other issues involved in this devopment. What kind of people would buy a quarter million dollar “cottage”? Not our kind of folk, that’s for sure. There would be a drastic shift in the demographic. It would take just a few people with more money than social concience, and we’d soon see the oldtimers who have a live and let live attitude getting stepped on.

Coalmont has it’s own history and culture. Coalmontians have enjoyed a quiet rural lifestyle for several generations now. A lifestyle that is based on leaving each other alone and not causing trouble for others. With incoming “city” values, there is likely to be a culture clash. That scenario is well documented in numerous studies.

What is perhaps more worriesome is the potential for increased weekend trouble. There is already an irresponsible element seen on the holidays that is causing increased police and ambulance visits. Augment that and we’ll start to get more intrusive rules and regulations so we all lose. A high density development here would no doubt exacerbate all existing problems. It wouldn’t be country living anymore.

I wonder though, how much of this is reality? In order to get the rest of the houses built, the developer still needs to go through a number of hoops. For one, to get rezoning they would have to talk to us, and that is not an area where they have shown any diligence so far. Even if they are able to get investors, they can’t sell houses until they can build them, and they can’t build them until they have building permits. That hasn’t happened yet. So far we just have one nice little house coming up on the old works yard. That isn’t really a problem for anybody. Still, when we see a row of survey stakes and yuppie style real estate signs, we get nervous. #