Model railroad gets approval to stay in industrial park
The owner of one of the top tourist attractions in town has received unanimous support from members of Town of Osoyoos council to ensure the Osoyoos Model Desert Railroad can continue to operate in the town’s industrial park for many years to come.
Poul Pedersen, who operates the popular tourist attraction with his daughter Lotte Mendes, sought to solidify the zoning status of his business in the Buena Vista Industrial Park by applying for site-specific rezoning.
Council unanimously passed giving first and second readings to Pedersen’s request and made it clear they will be passing his request in the near future.
In a letter to council, Pedersen wrote “our business is manufacturing and selling of wood products and a train model display. We are open year round from Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. … and attract thousands of people every year from around the world, so we think we are a real asset to the town.”
A recent newspaper article described how the “Osoyoos Desert Model Railroad offers North America’s largest Marlin train layout with 40 computer-operated trains travelling along two kilometres of track. The attraction was rated No. 1 in the Okanagan Valley and No. 9 in all of B.C. by Trip Advisor.”
Pedersen and his daughter own the property that houses the model railroad, the wood manufacturing operation and an accessory residential suite.
The property is zoned as general industrial M1 and there are similarly zoned and sized properties to the south and north and eight heavy industrial business properties to the west are home to South Okanagan Concrete.
The M1 zone permits a number of uses such as manufacturing, processing and finished products, animal hospitals, storage, offices and storage buildings, repair and sale of tools and small equipment, building supplies and garden shops, said Alain Cunningham, the town’s director of development and planning.
“The zone does not include a tourist attraction as a permitted use and the current zoning bylaw does not define any such generic use,” he said.
Both an industrial development permit and building permit were issued in 2001, but only made mention of the industrial part of the building being intended for woodworking and it was not until 2003 that the model railroad attraction was opened to the public, said Cunningham.
Since then, business licenses have described the nature of the business as “painted wood products”, though in 2001 the business name on the licenses did change to Osoyoos Desert Model Railroad,” he said.
While it has never been formally recognized as a permitted use on the property, staff proposes this administrative oversight be rectified by approving site-specific rezoning for this particular business, he said.
“Restricting this use to the subject property will protect against any further incursion of tourist attractions into our limited industrial land base,” he said. “Also, if the model railway ever ceased operating, the property could only be used for industrial uses and an accessory residential suite.”
In should be clarified that zoning a single property differently from surrounding zoning patterns may be appropriate in some circumstances with churches and corner stores being approved in residential areas being common examples, said Cunningham.
Site-specific zoning should be avoided when a small parcel of land is singled out for privileged treatment of the owner against “the public interest” and when it isn’t in accord with Official Community Plan (OCP) policies and would negatively impact surrounding properties, said Cunningham.
“These concerns do not apply in this case because the model railroad use benefits the community by drawing in many tourists and local visitors, is consistent with economic development sustainability and commercial policies in the OCP and should not adversely impact on surrounding businesses,” he said.
The building was inspected recently and found to be “generally up to code for its public access use.”
Mayor Stu Wells said the Osoyoos Desert Model Railroad has been operated in an exemplary fashion from the day it opened and approving this rezoning application was an easy decision.
Coun. Sue McKortoff agreed.
“I’m very happy to support this,” she said. “It has been a top tourist attraction for the last 10 years.”
Before council officially approves the rezoning application, a public hearing must be held. It will be held on August 12. All details will be revealed through newspaper advertisements in the Osoyoos Times in the next couple of weeks.