The first phase of a significant urban redevelopment proposal earned Kelowna city council’s approval Monday, but what will surround the 22-storey residental tower is still up for debate.
The tower, which will be built at the corner of Sutherland Avenue and Capri Street, was signed off on by council at Monday’s meeting. Prior to that decision, however, council spent nearly two hours debating the master plan for the space. It proposes retail components, an ice-rink, an ampitheatre as well as residential space that would amount to housing for 2,200 people.
Council questions were focused on public access and commitment to several amenities, most notably an NHL-size outdoor rink.
Those questions were largely unanswered by the project design representative for the Capri property owner, RG Properties.
Leo Mariotto, president of ICR Projects based out of the Lower Mainland, said trying to predict the exact development path for the 20-acre site, which currently houses Capri Mall and the Coast Capri Hotel, is impossible.
“Right now, I was here in response to getting approval for phase one of the project and I’m not really in a position to answer your questions,” said Mariotto.
The Kelowna planning department recommended the revised development master plan be adopted, but council gave considerable pushback to that recommendation, using terms like “confused” and “lacking clarity” to voice their frustrations about understanding changes to the original masterplan submitted in 2016.
The ice rink, which has evolved from a skating pond to NHL size scale, was a focal point of concern—namely who will own it, and when would it take shape in the multi-phased build-out scheme.
Coun. Luke Stack said if the ownership of the rink is a strata arrangement, within two years it’s conceivable the public would lose access access.
Mariotto could not speak to the ownership issue or even guarantee at what point the rink would be built. He just said it is intended to be a focal point of the development that draws people into the site, not just reserved for project strata condo and townhouse owners.
Stack also raised concerns about private versus public roads within the development; proposed flowpath for bicycle paths around the site; clarification of the park and greenspace commitment; vehicle access to the site, now limited to one main entry point off Gordon Drive; and timing on the various build-out phases coming on stream.
Not all, however, were opposed to what they saw or the lack of guarantees.
“I think it is difficult to expect a private developer to make time commitments to when amenities will be brought on stream for this when there are already so many balls bouncing in the air,” said Coun. Gail Given.
“This is like putting together a 4-D puzzle. And when you talk about tenants in the mall relocating as this develops proceeds just adds that many more balls in the air.”
Coun. Charlie Hodge said council has a responsibility to the public learn how a development of this scale will proceed—and make sure that vision is followed.
“We have had experiences in the past where that has not been the case,” he said. “Part of the trade-off for approving a higher density development was the public amenities that were to be a part of this.”
Council opted to defer the site master plan adoption—with Sieben, Given and Mayor Colin Basran opposed. They were then placed in the awkward position of approving the first phase of the development.
The initial phase of the development is one of seven 22-storey high-rise towers. Another single 26-storey tower is expected to follow.
“It feels odd doing it this way but I am prepared to approve this as long as the questions we have previously raised are answered before the second phase comes before us,” said Coun. Ryan Donn.
Coun. Maxine DeHart said council is showing a sign of good faith to the developer by approving the phase one residential component.
“Our message to the developer today has been very, very harsh and I think the applicant got the message. There is a lot more development to come on this project. They know and we know how to proceed forward, ” DeHart said.
Kelowna city planner Terry Barton told council allowing phase one to proceed won’t compromise response to concerns about the overall development plan.
“I would say there is a degree of generosity being shown by council to approve this without knowing all the aspects and details council has requested answers for, and approving this will set very specific boundaries for this corner (where the phase one tower is proposed), but it’s also knowing a large remainder of the site where the flexibility to make design changes still exists,” said Barton.
Hodge was the lone councillor to oppose the first phase approval, saying to do so was not consistent with council’s previously voiced concerns about the development.
“We are moving the first phase forward while the rest of the project is somewhat in limbo,” Hodge said.
Stack echoed Hodge’s sentiments, saying his personal preference might have been to delay it until the overall concept issues are addressed.
“But this tower plan is consistent with the existing comprehensive development zone we approved previously and it’s a beautiful building design, so I am willing to approve this on the good faith we will get substantive answers to our other concerns,” Stack said.
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