Affordable housing, healthcare, dike repairs and employment barriers for young families are just a few of the things that the Village of Keremeos is focusing its attention on in the new year.
Ambrosia, a 43-unit housing development spearheaded by Lower Similkameen Community Services Society, is projected to fill quickly once it is completed. This is the third development by the society in their service area, which covers Hedley, Keremeos, Cawston and Olalla.
The project, subsidized by BC Housing, is a combination of studio, one, two and three-bedroom units, priced to accommodate moderate to low-income families and seniors. It is set to include some accessible and adaptable units.
The Review reported that in July, an open house held for the new affordable housing project received overwhelming support from the community. At the same time, the village was disheartened by the fact that the waitlist exceeded the number of units the project would provide. At that time, there were 80 seniors in the village seeking affordable housing.
Ambrosia will be located at 714 Veterans Ave., something the society said is a big win, putting it directly across from the Village’s main grocery store and within walking distance of the pharmacy and credit union.
According to Mayor Manfred Bauer, the village’s demographic consists mainly of seniors, which is why this project is so highly sought after.
Bauer said much was accomplished in 2019 but more is on the way in the upcoming year, including progress on the ongoing flood mapping project.
Two years ago, the village was struck by several large floods caused by a rise in groundwater.
“Our main problem in Keremeos was unprecedented high groundwater levels,” said Bauer.
The mayor explained that this could have been attributed to a sustained high water level in the Similkameen, which did not seem to decrease much over the summer months. This resulted in water coming out of the ground in an amount which the village hadn’t seen in years.
In response, the village is working on completing a regional flood mapping project that will give them a better idea of which areas are most at risk of flooding. Once the village understands these areas, Bauer said they can better decide what areas of the dike need reinforcing.
He explained that some areas of the river are lined by a dike that is not in their authority to modify or reinforce. However, the two-kilometre stretch of dike along the southern border of Keremeos is.
“That’s why that stretch, Keremeos itself, is in good shape, because we’re taking care of it. But the rest of it, not so much, because as I said, nobody wants to do it,” said Bauer.
Bauer said he and council have had discussions with provincial authorities about the integrity of the dike outside their jurisdiction. He anticipates that this new flood mapping information will give them a better idea of how to tackle these issues.
This year in Keremeos was relatively tame with regards to natural disaster, compared to previous years. Across the area, the wildfires were less frequent, and the flooding was not as severe.
“Strategically speaking, we did a wildfire strategic prevention plan and study, and we are actually in a good position here,” he said. “We’ve got the river on one side, we’ve got green pastures past the river. The village itself is in a pretty good location.”
FireSmart education programs are projected to continue into the new year, to ensure everyone has the opportunity to take precautionary steps in preventing disaster.
In addition to this, a Similkameen risk assessment, flood risk and flood mitigation study is ongoing and the mayor said this will be a strong tool in preparing for major disasters.
In addition to the completion of community FireSmart programs and wildfire protection strategies, the formulation of an evacuation plan is underway.
“All of these plans help to guide our response in the event of an emergency,” said Bauer in an email.
This year the village received a large upgrade in lighting. Bauer applauded Fortis BC for installing LED street lights and replacing the old sodium vapour lamps.
“I think most people are understanding that it makes a huge difference to put LED lights in versus … sodium vapour lamps,” said the mayor.
“We’re talking not just the environment, it’s overall cost factor.”
Time will tell just how energy-efficient these new lights are, and Bauer said they will be able to calculate this after some time has passed.
Bauer said all projects are important, and didn’t want to pin the importance of one above the other. However, something he and council are particularly proud of is the hiring of a new public works manager. Being a smaller community, the mayor explained that much of their municipal work has been contracted out. This sometimes results in some tasks taking years to complete.
“That is always a challenge,” he said. “With our tax base, we’re too small – we can’t afford our own building inspector, we can’t afford our own planning department.”
Having in-house help, he said, will expedite projects and procedures.
This, as well as addressing the need for childcare facilities to counteract some of the employment barriers young families face when they move to the Similkameen, is something the village will continue to work on. This will be combined with a review of their official commuwnity plan (OCP) to address future growth.
With regard to tourism, Bauer was excited to share and said the pocket park in their downtown core is nearing completion and is anticipated to make downtown safer and more attractive to residents and tourists alike.
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