Vision and Clarity

People expect Mayor and Council to have a vision. For some, that is how they judge any decision the body of Council makes. Interestingly, only very few ever ask or express any interest in what that vision might be. My personal vision for Fernie, reportedly the second fastest growing community in British Columbia, is that through this inevitable growth the community we know and love maintains its authenticity, safety, and resilient social fabric. That it remains a destination of choice for visitors and new residents alike. 

Technically this Council’s vision is detailed in our consensus-developed and newly adopted strategic plan available on the City of Fernie website. A strategic plan and the vision it supports should be forward-looking while honouring the community we are and where we have come from. 

Inevitably then, a project like a firehall for a small city like ours rightly creates a lot of conversation, debate, and both opposition and support. I thank everyone who has reached out to me personally to ask their great questions. I would like to provide some of my perspective to the ongoing discussion and, in doing so, hopefully address some misconceptions that keep cropping up in conversation.

First, only one baseball diamond at Prentice Park is affected by the proposed firehall. We immediately reached out to the diamond’s dedicated users after the decision and are committed to working collaboratively to create a solution for everyone. The goal: ensure that no sports are impacted, and that not one baseball game is dropped from the schedule because of this project.

Second, 1.5 acres is what a firehall requires in a town of our size. Given the aforementioned growth, we want this hall to be a serviceable asset for 50-plus years. We do not want to pursue half-measures. We want Fernie Fire & Emergency Services to smoothly, safely, and efficiently answer the entire range of calls they receive now and into the future. This includes all-calls that draw on every available full-time and auxiliary firefighter. During their response we don’t want them wasting time looking for parking in residential neighborhoods. And we want them to train at their station, from where they will be dispatched, with their equipment, and their team.

Third, one site on the highway was suggested by the owner through the Expression of Interest Process. It was eliminated for size and a number of construction constraints, including the complete unknown as to whether it would be granted access to the highway by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. As well, this site, with all its limiting factors, would have to be purchased from the owner which adds a considerable up-front cost. Due to the level of interest by the community this site was looked at more than once but never rose to meet our community need.

Finally, another option was, of course, 902 2nd Avenue which does not offer the same location advantage, nor the flexibility of the 5th Avenue site. Importantly, however, 902 2nd offers commercial and residential opportunities that would extend our downtown and generate property taxes to support local services that a firehall won’t. To that end, a mixed commercial and residential development downtown pays into our future in a way that a municipal building doesn’t. The firehall generates value per acre in community safety and response, 902 2nd could generate value per acre in much needed commercial and residential space and in tax revenue to support growth.

Part of my future vision includes a detailed examination of our former landfill on Coal Creek Rd. as a site for redevelopment into sports fields. Imagine a Coal Creek Sports Centre with full size fields including soccer/rugby pitches, baseball diamonds, and pickleball courts already serviced by a bike trail.

A responsible Council makes decisions for well beyond their four-year mandate. It’s a long game that requires trust that the decisions being made are truly made in the best interest of the community and with an eye to creating our best future. 

Photo by J. Raymond