'Our powers are being taken away': Kelowna council rattled by erosion of housing authority

'Powers being taken away'

The erosion of city council powers at the hands of provincial legislation continues to concern some around the Kelowna council table.

Council voted 7-2 Monday to give first three reading to amendments to its development application bylaws.

The changes centred around when public hearings can be held, the delegation of authority away from council and into the hands of staff in some instances and tree management.

Public hearings will only be required when zoning is inconsistent with the Official Community Plan and could be held but are not required for non-residential properties consistent with the OCP. They will not be permitted for residential projects consistent with the OCP.

The delegation of authority to staff would include projects of up to six units with minor variances.

"On infill projects, variances that require council approval are often a deterrent to the applicant who sometimes view the council variance process as lengthy, costly and risky," said planner Trisa Atwood.

"By delegating variances on projects of up to six units to staff, applicants can save both time and money which helps to streamline infill housing and avoids the additional costs being passed on to the end user."

Death by a thousand cuts?

In terms of tree management, the change in part removes council's ability to vocally use tree preservation on property as a reason to turn down an infill housing project.

Coun. Charlie Hodge, one of the most vocal advocates for tree preservation, called the move by the province another attempt to wipe out trees in the city.

He called it a step backwards.

"I just see this as one more 'death by a thousand cuts' literally that we are accepting that local governments will not preserve trees to hinder infill development," said Hodge.

"Are houses more important that trees in our community?

"I know houses are vitally important but I would say our clean air, our breathing, our oxygen and our quality of life suggest we need trees as well."

Approving rezoning applications

When it comes to specific residential rezoning applications that meet the OCP, council voiced concerns over the inability to go to a public hearing when there are legitimate concerns raised by a neighbourhood.

"We can't have it etched in stone. If it fits the OCP and staff says yes, so it shall go," said Coun. Mohini Singh.

She was reminded this is provincial legislation and council really has no choice but to amend bylaws to reflect that legislation.

City clerk Laura Bentley did remind council it does have the ability to turn down applications due to land use considerations or defer projects for more information, as council did a week ago with an application on Lakeshore Road.

"I am so on the line on this because I don't know if we have a choice in this matter," added Singh.

"I feel we were elected to respond to the wishes of the people but on direction from the provincial government our powers are being taken away. It precludes us from doing our duty and it's very upsetting."

Coun. Luke Stack agreed with those around the table that yes, council is losing some of it's authority, but argued that has to be balanced with the fact any authority municipalities have is granted to it by the province.

"So yes, we are losing some of the freedoms we have enjoyed, but in essence the only thing we as a municipality can do is what the provincial government allows us to do.

"I think we have to keep those two facts balanced out."

More Kelowna News