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Hotel passes 1st test

A 24 storey hotel and conference centre proposed for the former Willow Inn site passed its first hurdle Monday.

City Council gave first reading to an Official Community Plan amendment and rezoning application that would close a portion of Mill Street and Queensway Avenue adjacent to the project.

The scope of the project, proposed by Westcorp Development, requires the development utilize portions of both streets.

Because property is zoned to the middle of any adjacent street and not the end of the property line, council had to agree to rezone the property to allow the development to go ahead.

"Because we are doing some zoning that changes park zoning to development zoning, we need to make it very clear that we are not rezoning any part of Kerry Park to development," said Councillor Robert Hobson.

"It's just a technical change because half of a road happens to be zoned park because it is next to a park where as the other side is zoned for developments. I hope people are not rallying around the notion that we are building on Kerry Park or we are taking away parkland and zoning it for development."

As expected, council came out unanimously in support of the hotel development.

Even though it was not up for discussion Monday, councillors who mentioned the height spoke in favour.

The area currently allows for buildings up to 19 storeys.

A variance for the other five storeys will come at a later date.

"I see this as a very positive, well thought out application and I think it's going to be a real welcome addition to downtown," said Councillor Gerry Zimmermann.

"I am not concerned with the height. I think that's a reasonable height for that location."

Hobson added that the city needs the rooms provided by the additional height

Councillor Gail Given says she believes the project will meet the objective of both the OCP and Downtown Plan by bringing more people into the waterfront area.

"One of the key elements this project brings forward is the eyes on the street and the ability to connect our downtown to Stuart Park, to Kerry Park - to further draw people down Water Street," said Given.

"I think the applicant has gone above and beyond to create a stunning project that will be a jewel in the Kelowna crown."

The overall project calls for a five storey podium and 24 storey hotel tower.

The tower would include 214 rooms while the podium would house the hotel lobby, street front retail, a five storey parkade with 248 parking stalls and conference centre.

The parkade would be masked by a variety of uses on three sides.

"Hiding the parkade with other uses...I think they've done an excellent job of making that pedestrian realm an interesting place," said Hobson.

"It's not just a big building. It's going to have interesting places for people to walk around it, which I think is really nice."

"This project provides so many benefits for our downtown and the community as a whole," added Councillor Colin Basran.

"A lot of the people I'm talking to about it are really excited about this project. There was mention in the report that there was consideration of going to two towers. I'm glad this is one tower because two towers would have really done a disservice to the view corridor."

The application goes to public hearing June 10.

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