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Mass not height sinks Monaco

Kelowna City Council unanimously, but reluctantly, said no to the controversial Monaco development project.

Council was also unanimous that height variances for the two towers was not an issue. The issue instead was the fact the towers would be separated by just 9.29 metres as opposed to the required 30 metres for buildings over 22 metres in height.

Developers of the Monaco, proposed for the corner of Doyle Avenue and St. Paul Street, were asking for seven separate variances on the project.

Tuesday's decision came after nearly five hours of debate, questions and public input before about 100 interested spectators in Council Chambers.

One by one, councillors agreed it was an ambitious development that would be of benefit to the city and the downtown.

"Including the comments that it's very difficult to not support the project for a lot of very good reasons, this has been clearly the most creative project I've seen in the city, let alone downtown Kelowna, " says Mayor Walter Gray.

They indicated the height of the towers, 22 and 26 storeys was not an issue.

"I have a huge concern with the nine metres between two towers. Towers of that size on a lot of this size seems just too much to me," says Councillor Gail Given.

"They will be perceived as one large mass."

Others also pointed to the newly adopted Downtown Plan which was trumpeted by many of those in attendance who addressed council during the evening.

"The thing I think that influenced me the most was people who spoke about the Downtown Plan. A lot of time and effort went into this plan -- to put it together," says Councillor Gerry Zimmermann.

"I think we all understand variances are needed and we're going to have to live with that. It's the number of variances and how it goes against the basic concept of the Downtown Plan. I think we owe something to the public that put a lot of time into this plan and I think the public needs some sense that there will be some general compliance to it."

Twenty-four people spoke at Tuesday's meeting, 14 of those opposed the project while 10 spoke in favour.

It was also revealed Tuesday that 105 letters and a 196 name on-line petition were handed into City Hall opposing the project while 81 letters and a 1,072 name petition supported the Monaco.

Those in favour spoke of the beauty of the development, of the need for attainable housing in the downtown area, the need for more shoppers downtown and the need to get on with developing the downtown area.

Those against the project spoke of the height, space between the buildings and the close proximity to the adjacent Madison building.

Most of those in favour were either business people in the downtown area or from the younger demographic, something not lost on the mayor.

"As a developer they have clearly said it's 250 units -- we have to appeal to everybody that wants to live and work downtown," says Gray.

When we go through the letters and the people we heard tonight -- if you really break it down -- the biggest area of support was young people, which ironically is the market this developer was trying to capture in their project."

Keith Funk with New Town Planning and Architecture, who spoke on behalf of Premier Pacific, indicated 41 per cent of the units would be priced for couples or individuals making the median wage in Kelowna of $53,000 a year.

He says the price point at the Monaco is much more affordable for the average person that the adjacent Madison.

"We can also add a whole lot more personal amenities. We have a fitness centre, running track, swimming pool and sauna. We can actually improve the quality of life for people living here," Funk told council.

"And, we can do it roughly at the same price you could buy a condo for in Rutland."

Funk says Premier Pacific would be able to build the Monaco 30 to 40 per cent cheaper than other complexes, allowing for a more affordable price point.

"The real driver for the certainty of this is the fact that without using that market as an engine to pay for building this building and if we were just to rely on wealthy or better off people then we would have a very small market," says Funk.

"We would be taking a very big risk and therefore we would be in a lot of trouble."

In the end, council hoped the developers would re-think their proposal and come back with a single tower concept, something Funk indicated would be a much harder sell on the market.

Funk refused to speak with the media following council's decision.

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