Hotel lacks 'sensitivity'

A request to nearly double the allowable size of a proposed downtown Kelowna hotel does not sit well with city staff.

Edmonton-based Westcorp is seeking a variance to increase the height of its hotel on the former Willow Inn site from 76.5 metres (26 storeys) to 131 metres (33 storeys).

A staff report to be debated by council following a public hearing Feb. 20 states the height variance is further accentuated by "relatively large tower floor areas, and two further variances for the six-storey podium structure."

"The proposal's overall size, height and massing are overwhelming for the subject property and its unique downtown context," staff wrote in the report.

It goes on to say the property is in close proximity to several culturally significant sites, such as Kerry and Stuart parks, Okanagan Lake and the Sails, Bernard Avenue and City Hall.

"In addition to creating shadowing impacts on these lower-scale spaces, the proposal's build form may create an overpowering visual presence lacking the sensitivity and integration that development of the subject property needs.

"By virtue of the size and prominence, the proposed building may impact the qualities that some people value in the surrounding public spaces."

An original development permit was issued for the hotel four years ago. That permit was for a 24-storey, 214-room hotel and conference centre. That project was delayed several times, and eventually underwent a complete redesign.

The new design would include 174 hotel rooms, 49 for-sale condos, a 16th-floor sky restaurant, conference centre, restaurant and coffee shop on the ground level as well as retail shops in the lobby.

Staff indicated the mixed-use component of the project is strong, as is the design quality of the ground-oriented space adjacent to Kerry Park and Queensway.

An original height variance to 87 metres was supported by council in 2014, however, that development permit has now expired.

Staff acknowledged some flexibility in height could be rationalized, but not as proposed.

Some changes would need to be made to the design, including:

  • Reduction in the tower floor areas to achieve a more slender form. This would reduce massing and visual impact and help to reduce shadowing on neighbouring properties and the public realm.
  • Reduction in podium height especially on Water Street in order to provide a consistent streetscape experience and better transition to neighbouring buildings
  • Reduction in overall height would provide a more context sensitive development consistent with public policy and land use governance direction.

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