While it didn't meet initial expectations, Kelowna council, by and large, happy with Central Green

Central Green expectations

Kelowna city council didn't get exactly what it was promised, or had hoped for from its Central Green site.

But, as council approved the final piece of the massive housing project on the former KSS site Monday, they for the most part, agreed they got what they wanted.

Residential density downtown.

"I was around when this was first contemplated, and the main driver of Central Green in my recollection, was we wanted residential housing in downtown Kelowna," said Coun. Luke Stack.

"Back in those days we weren't seeing much residential, either condos or rental apartments in the central part of the city.

"This was a plan to stimulate that and show living in one of the urban centres was a viable option. Since those years have gone by we've seen all kinds of residential housing going in downtown."

Plans for the former high school property at Harvey Avenue and Richter Street date back to 2002 when the city purchased the property for $2.6 million. Three years later, it purchased the commercial building on the corner for $873,000 before beginning an ambitious plan for redevelopment in 2007.

Plans were initially rolled out and agreed to in 2008 but in 2010, after the housing market crash, it was determined the plan was not financially viable.

That changed in 2014 when Al Stober Construction bought the site for $6 million.

Initial plans called for mixed-use towers facing the highway from 18 to 22 storeys, but changed to allow for height up to 20 storeys in the centre of the development.

Those plans changed again, with smaller buildings and very little commercial or retail.

"The process has been a journey for the whole community, and all of us on council. The desires of the community have changed over time,' said Coun. Ryan Donn.

Coun. Brad Sieben said he had to adjust his expectations, but believes at the end of the day, the project ticks off a lot of boxes.

"There are a lot of wins in this," said Coun. Mohini Singh. "I think we have come a long way. This will be good for our city."

Coun. Charlie Hodge voted against the final two buildings of the project, saying he was "underwhelmed."

"Part of the problem I have to admit, is my expectations of what I thought would be there were based on the process of how we got here," he said.

"The plan began with a much different look, and part of my issue here again is there's not enough what I would consider to be three-bedroom or family units. A mixture of building sizes, a mixture of walkways and pathways, and the idea there would be retail and stores and shops, and a lot of them."

The final build out of the property will include 748 housing units, more than the 717 proposed, but at the expense of commercial space.

City planner Ryan Smith says that is actually a net positive, saying additional commercial units would increase trip generation and put a strain on parking.

"I understand there will be some in our community that will express disappointment that perhaps it didn't live up to the original vision," said Mayor Colin Basran.

"But, I think you have to look at what has now come to fruition. The fact that, while I appreciate we have met the density targets, it has been at the expense of less commercial retail and office space. But, I'm OK with that given its proximity to downtown."

He pointed to the fact it's a LEED Certified community, and it includes much needed supportive housing which has "integrated into the neighbourhood with zero problems."

"While I appreciate where we started was not exactly where we ended up, the community benefit has been absolutely immense."

Construction on the final two buildings is expected to begin later this year.

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