Guiding development in Fernie

Community engagement is a vital part of Fernie’s economic development

Norm McInnis addresses a group from a speakers' platform

Norm McInnis is the chief administrative officer for the city of Fernie, B.C. — Photo courtesy Norm McInnis

In our quest for some insight into plans for growth and development in the City of Fernie, we had a conversation with Norm McInnis, Fernie’s chief administrative officer.

McInnis is proud that Fernie had a 64 per cent voter turnout for the October 2018 municipal election. With a new city council in place and the Memorial Arena back in service, he said, “We’re getting back to planning for the future of the community.”

McInnis believes that community economic development should be done in the community, for the community, and that the City needs to be at the table, but not necessarily the sole provider of economic development services. His intent is to create an environment where the community will participate.

Fernie's city hall, a blend of grand and rustic-themed architecture, is the city's base for community economic development planning. — Kim Shellborn photo

City council has scheduled a workshop for March 22, facilitated by Gerri Brightwell, the regional manager for Central and East Kootenay, to focus on economic development and governance models.

“Gerri will be telling us what’s going on in other communities and their community economic development efforts,” said McInnis. “We need to work out which model makes the most sense for Fernie. The workshop will be the catalyst to re-form some of our traditional committees that have been doing good work here.

“We have a priority to look at all of our committees and come up with ways to support them and get everyone pulling in the same direction. We hope to reboot our whole community structure and build what will evolve into a governance model that will support community economic development.”

Making the most of existing resources

Tourism is an important economic driver in Fernie, and the community is working on a new tourism master plan. Because Fernie is part of the Resort Municipality Initiative, the City is rewriting its resort development strategy.

McInnis added that the City is also working on a heritage master plan as part of its community economic development activities, and is involved in the Elk Valley Economic Initiative to support development in the region.

Hopes for housing

“The 2016 census showed that Fernie has grown by 18 per cent, so residential growth is still very healthy here,” said McInnis. “Workforce housing is still a major issue—affordability overall is still something that we at the City hear about frequently.”

A variety of housing projects offer some relief:

  • The Montane subdivision is still going strong.
  • The Cedars, located near Mt. Fernie Provincial Park, just applied for development of Phases 2,3 and 4.
  • There is still some residential activity going on at Alpine Plains
  • Redevelopment in Maintown and the Annex is strong.
  • Fernie Family Housing Society now has funding for a 43-unit affordable housing project, and the City is working with the Society to facilitate the project.

“We’re optimistic that, over time, the Fernie Family Housing project will take some of the pressure off,” said McInnis. ”We’re in constant discussions with the business community around the labour (workforce) housing issue. Fernie Alpine Resort, Tourism Fernie and our chamber of commerce are at the table with us.

“We would like some of the future growth in Fernie to include commercial or light industrial as well as residential. We’re looking at strategies that will help achieve that, like identifying or partnering on properties suitable for commercial or light industrial development. We may approach the RDEK about extending the city’s boundaries in the area adjacent to our industrial park just east of town.”

In part, it’s this big-picture vision and planning by the council and staff that keep the city of Fernie sustainable and well-loved by its residents and visitors.

Visitors and residents enjoy a summer day in Fernie's historical downtown. — Kim Shellborn photo

Marie Milner

Marie Milner is a writer and photographer for Kootenay Business magazine and several other publications. She appreciates the inspiration that she gets during her interviews and hopes to share that inspiration with you. View all of Marie Milner’s articles

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