Kelowna council sends Summerhill culinary college proposal to ALC

Winery plan too ambitious?

Bold. Visionary. Grandiose. Creative. Ambitious.

Those were some of the thoughts of city council as they grilled a team of owners and technical experts connected with Summerhill Pyramid Winery's proposed 150-bed culinary college on the winery property.

Since the winery is within the Agricultural Land Reserve, the application for a non-farm use must first be approved by the Agricultural Land Commission.

Typically, council will either vote to send these types of applications to the ALC, or reject them altogether. But given the scope and size of the proposal, and significant concerns around the table, council took the unusual step of asking the applicant to explain their vision when it first reviewed the application earlier this month.

After 90 minutes of questions and discussion around the table, concerns remained, but council voted to send the project to the ALC.

Many of those concerns centred around the size and scope of the project, which is up to four storeys in height with 150 rooms.

Coun. Gail Given echoed similar concerns she had from the original presentation, wondering if the project would become nothing more than a hotel for tourists.

"Is this a full college program, or are we likely to see this be more of a culinary tourism type program where we see people taking short-term courses out of interest as opposed to actual college education?" asked Given.

She was told there would be both six to eight month courses that will complement the culinary program at Okanagan College, as well as shorter one day, three-to-five day and two-to-three week courses.

The program would turn out professional chefs intent on impacting the world in terms of sourcing and producing food.

"We will offer culinary courses that are three days, five days, and that's for the home person who wants to make an impact in their life with the every day use of how they look into their fridge, how they shop for food, how they don't waste food at home," one spokesperson stated.

"Scale is an issue," said Given, prior to voting yes.

"The reason scale is a concern is because once it's built, it's built. You can't dial back from there. As an educational facility, as a place for thought leaders to build on how we produce food as a world, it's a a great concept. Should it become something different than that, it will become not such a great concept. That's our challenge."

Coun. Luke Stack, who along with Couns. Ryan Donn and Mohini Singh voted against the idea, said he didn't understand why the accommodations needed to be built at the winery.

He also pointed to the city's Agricultural Advisory Committee, which suggested the building didn't need to be as big. He also had concerns about additional parking required, impacts on neighbouring agricultural properties and a rooftop garden, which could also serve as a wine tasting venue.

"I think there is enough support from what I've heard today that it will go to the ALC, because they are the ones that are going to make this decision.

"If they do support it, it's going to come back to us, and we are going to have to look at the size, and the scope, the parking, the access and the sewers and everything else. It's going to be a campus, and just the sheer magnitude of this on our very valuable ALR land is a huge concern to me.

"I think if it does go ahead, I actually think some councillors should join me and vote against it, because I think the Agricultural Land Commission should be aware that we have concerns up here, and it's not a slam dunk."

The application, along with a staff report, council's vote and concerns, as well as comments from the city's agriculture committee will all be forwarded to the ALC.

If approved, the debate on size and scope would again be reignited around the council table.

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