The proposed “Muse” (development) on the former site of the Kelowna RCMP detachment at 350 Doyle Avenue continues to generate controversy and should turn into an opportunity for the new city council to overturn questionable bidding process and make right what is wrong.
As a reminder, the project is to build a mixed residential, commercial and entertainment building on a city property that it is being leased to the developer for 80 years and a $7 million prepaid lump sum.
In 2019, the city awarded the project to Appelt Properties following a public bid that specified a building height’s limit of 13 storeys. The proposal was revised in 2022, following opposition from occupants (renters) of the Innovation Centre who complained about loosing their lake views from the rooftop patio. A revised proposal that consisted of a 25-storey building and required the acceptance of nothing less than five variances was approved by the city on July 26, 2022.
For the record, Couns. Mohini Singh and Charlie Hodge voted against, while all the other councillors and, of course, former mayor Colin Basran supported the revised proposal.
A couple of key facts:
1. The proposed building went from 13 to 25 storeys. That was the first switch. In its presentation, city planners had the indecency to say the new proposed building was a “little bit” higher and was a “good” compromise. Personally, I am offended by such a statement as doubling the height of a building in not a small comprise from my perspective.
2. If truth be told, as an owner and resident at the Madison, I would really be annoyed that the concerns of the employees of companies renting space in the Innovation Center (a commercial space) losing their lake view have such a strong voice and was enough to impact drastically the way the proposal for this project evolved. I have no doubt the Madison’s residents would have appreciated the same consideration when the Innovation Center was going through its approval process. Obvious there were not that lucky because the six-storey Innovation Center was plunked in front to them, altering for ever their quality of life and property value.
3. Since the project is (to be) built on city land, it has to go through a formal request for proposal (RFP) process. Anybody whohas worked with publicly owned, city, provincial or federal government entities, as I did all through my entire career, clearly understand a couple of basic, back and white but golden rules of a RFP bid process. First, during the open bidding period, any changes to the specification, in addition to all questions and answers, are shared with all the bidders. Second, if the specification of the project changes after the project has been awarded, all the bidders are re-invited and the entire bid process starts all over again.
Well, that did not happen for this project. No matter what the director of city planning says. With no evidence of a tangible due diligence, it is very disturbing that such an oversight was not a red flag for all the previous council members.
This revised proposal should have been scrapped in July, even before getting in front of the city council.
4. During the discussion last July, the developer “baited” the city council with the promise of having 10% of the units as (attainable) housing. When asked if the 10% would be a mix of studio, one-bedroom or two-bedrooms (units)), the developer stated that decision had not been made yet.
5. By Nov 2, the decision had been made and the second “switch” was in the making. Only studios ranging from 325 square-feet to 350 square-feet would be rented for 30% of the median total income of a household making $82,000 (in 2020). That translates to $2,050 per month. For the sake of discussion, doing some basic, if not simplistic, math, that would translate to $3,470 for a 550-square-foot, one-bedroom and $5,046 for an 800-square-foot two bedroom (unit). Is that is what Appelt Properties considers affordable? Are you kidding me. I will not waste time commenting on such an outrageous proposal.
In my humble opinion,
1. In addition to rejecting the Affordable Housing By-law proposal as it was so rightfully and unanimously done by the city council on Nov. 21, this project proposal should have been scrapped altogether.
2. Should there be a new round of RFP, the specification should, irrevocably, be realigned to the OCP to stop further absurdity of 25-storey in a 13-storey zone, one block away from the lake.
3. (I believe) the city planning department should be reprimanded for two main reasons. On one hand, recommending back in July a proposal with five significant variances and on the other hand presenting recently to the city council such a proposal for an affordable housing by-law without applying any filters or using rudimentary common sense.
4. Considering (all this) city council should decide if it would be ethical to authorize this developer to participate in the new round of RFP, should there be one.
5. After all the promises of transparency made during the last election campaign, this is a golden opportunity for the new city council to “walk the walk” and send a strong message to all developers.
“Bait and switch” (should) no not be tolerated by the current Kelowna city council.
Unless proven otherwise, if the city planning department and city council elect to sit idle, we will have little choice but to conclude they endorse, if not encourage, such practices?
Bernard Dumont, Kelowna