According to the annual 2016 Development Summary Report issued to council Monday, building permit issuances for residential housing in 2016 rose 36% to 1,950 units. This number crushes the 5 and 10 year averages of 1,138 and 1,067 units respectively. Already into Q1 this year, 858 new units have approved. That’s a 216% increase from the same time last year! We are in a housing boom and it’s not showing any signs of slowing down.
Building starts got hammered in 2011. In that year we saw the fewest permits issued for new residential units since the late 1980’s (423 units). It was more than three times smaller the minimum amount needed to sustain are population growth (OCP projection: ~21,000 new units by 2030). So pressures off for now. For young working professionals like myself this means two things: higher vacancy rates and lower rent. I don’t have to tell you how welcome this news is for guys like me.
But there is another side of the coin worth considering. Are we building too much? Are we giving developer permits to just about anyone with a hard hat for any type of construction in the worries that we won’t have enough housing (affordable or otherwise) for our population in the future?
Consider Kelowna’s most recent developer permit application by Trane Developments for a property right next to The Conservatory whose lot is already under construction on Glenmore Rd. and Summit. It’s medium density housing and will add 166 affordable new units (1,2,3 bedroom) to the Glenmore area. It would have been a godsend in 2011.
But in the council meeting last Monday many councillors took issue with the (apparently) cheap looking design and form. What proceeded in the meeting was, for better or worse, a major pileup on the applicants.
“It looks like row or dorm housing” said Councillor Maxime Dehart
This is one of the tamer (and kind of funny) comments made in Monday’s meeting. If you are a political hack like myself, those 10 minutes of video/audio are worth saving on your laptop. But funny enough, no one had any real suggestions to the applicants of what they would like to see otherwise. The only exception was Gail Given who brought up that she likes to see the incorporating of quality materials like stone and wood into buildings (something the applicant’s building already had ironically enough). But nevertheless, council was clear about how uninspired they were with the application.
Despite all this only Charlie Hodge and Councillor Gray voted against it and the motion easily passed 6-2.
“This is a world-class city people want to live in. When it comes to developments, I don’t want just good enough. I want ‘wow’.” Hodge said.
Councillor Hodge, I couldn’t agree more. Let’s take the housing boom momentum we got and start using it to demand higher quality applications of developers. Let’s get out of the 2011 “take any” mindset and raise the bar. Do this and future generations will have that world-class city you speak of. Let’s not just whine about the lack of builder’s innovation and instead demand it.
On second thought, maybe not, I can’t afford the rent. I’ll take Hardieplank dorm housing any day.
It’s time for Kelowna to get serious about providing parking downtown.
Parking in Kelowna’s downtown core has steadily been eroded over the last 20 years. Today, merchants and their patrons are frustrated by the lack of reliable parking.
The City of Kelowna eliminated public parking on Queensway in 1998. Many other projects since, including renovations to Bernard in 2012, have eliminated additional parking downtown. A proposal to turn Lawrence and Leon into two-way streets could eliminate “up to 180 parking stalls,” according to the City.
The City recently sold a 60 stall parking lot at Lawrence and Ellis for $2.6 million to a developer. In a time where parking is at peak capacity, the City should be creating more parking, not selling it off to be developed.
In 2015, the Memorial Parkade was built to service the new Interior Health staff and to replace surface parking that was lost when the Interior Health building went up. Overall, the parkade added no new net spaces. Nearly 200 spaces created in the addition to the Library Parkade— set to open this spring—have already been rented out and the waitlist for downtown parking is over 400 names long.
Kelowna is in desperate need of new parkades, but according to the City, there are insufficient funds in the Parking Reserve to allow for the construction of a new parkade. Despite the lack of parking, the City maintains its push to get more people living downtown.
Further, the City continues to allow developers to put up cash in lieu of creating parking spaces. The idea is that the City will use the money to create new off-street parking options; however, the numbers simply don’t add up. Developers pay $22,500 for each stall that they neglect to create so that the City can build conglomerated off street parking. Unfortunately, the City estimates it spends $35,000 per new stall; effectively subsidizing developers who don’t want to provide parking. This puts an overwhelming burden on existing parking spaces and is not fair to Kelowna taxpayers and downtown merchants.
With the Parking Reserve fund in turmoil, how do we fix the parking problem in downtown Kelowna?
For starters, the City needs to stop lowering required parking ratios for downtown developments. A typical development in the Mission requires 1.5 parking spaces per unit, but developments downtown only require 1.
The City needs to extend paid parking hours on the street to 9 p.m. and make parkade spaces less expensive or free after 6 p.m. This will force downtown employees to use off street parking, allowing downtown patrons to cycle through on street parking spaces (instead of one vehicle staying parked all night). Extending paid parking hours will also increase revenues which can then be used to fund much needed parking projects.
When is the government going to stop the ridiculous amount of studies over a second crossing of Okanagan Lake that does not include a city bypass?
Harvey Ave is jammed up with traffic that doesn't need to be in the city at all. This doesn't impress tourists that are visiting or people of the Okanagan.
More hotels and restaurants would be built, creating more jobs and tax revenue.
It just makes sense.
Kelowna has amazing natural beauty within the city and all around it. For many people, Okanagan Lake is their favourite Kelowna feature.
All of the world's great waterfront cities have made a point of increasing access to their shorelines and beaches for both residents and visitors. Think of Vancouver's beloved Seawall and their English Bay beaches.
In Kelowna, from the Bennett Bridge up to Rotary Marsh we have a good template for what we could eventually do with our shoreline on the other side of the Bridge down to Mission Creek. Within this roughly 5 kilometres of shore south of the bridge we now have a few small to medium size parks. Unfortunately, they are disconnected from one another by long rows of waterfront houses. In many locations the owners of these houses have erected illegal barriers near the water. These barriers prevent us from walking from park to park along the shore of the lake that we all collectively own.
The most common barriers on our shoreline are private docks, built on public land. Most of them do not have the legally required stairs on both sides that allow you to climb over them. Adding the stairs, or other means to walk over these docks, should be the minimum required. Ideally, the province will eventually decrease the number of docks by refusing permits for new and replacement ones, and not renewing the permits when properties are sold.
BC's Natural Resource Officers have many important responsibilities. One of these is enforcing the laws that enable public access to our foreshore. For decades that has rarely been done in Kelowna. Because the province largely ignored infractions, many lakefront property owners erected more and more illegal barriers. One reason given by BC as to why it disregards these provincial laws is that there are insufficient funds available to hire enough NROs. A very simple and effective solution, that would not result in more taxation, would be to drastically increase fines to offenders and to then funnel this money into paying for more NROs.
When BC politicians start asking for your vote in the May 9th provincial election, please ask them to:
1. Commit to hiring more Natural Resource Officers to enforce the existing laws, and
2. Open up public access to our Okanagan Lake by decreasing the number of private docks.
The amount of money the BC Liberals are throwing around less than 2 months before the election just has to be record breaking. I would love to see a graph representing the last 4 years of government giveaways.
The problem is that the people at the receiving end are happy to get the money, even though they know it is vote buying in its simplicity.
"Here, have some money but remember to vote for us." Shame. Shame.
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