Kelowna council approved rezoning of a property on Manhattan Drive despite vehement opposition

Ableist rhetoric chastised

A first-of-its-kind accessibility apartment building came under attack by residents of the Manhattan Drive neighbourhood in Kelowna's north end Tuesday night.

Residents of the neighbourhood spoke en masse against the envisioned five-storey building in the single family neighbourhood, arguing about increased traffic, a lack of infrastructure including sidewalks and a narrow street, a radical change to their single family neighbourhood and a desire to put a halt to any OCP and zoning change while the north end goes through a comprehensive 18-month planning process.

But, it was the characterization of Gary McEwan, the owner of the home at 955 Manhattan Drive that drew the ire of the developer, many on council and some members of the broader disabled community.

His vision is to build a two-storey townhouse fronting along Manhattan Drive and a five-storey apartment behind with eight fully-accessible units.

McEwan and his wife are parents to a son who requires 24-7 care. His desire is to construct units that are completely wheelchair accessible, something not available in the city.

In fact, he says a fully-accessible apartment would be the first of its kind in the city and one of only two in the country.

However, some in the neighbourhood characterized his venture as nothing more than a "cash grab," and "capitalism is the end game."

McEwan's comments were called "high handed and capricious, and was accused of making a real estate play, and not about handicapped, special needs and "people of that ilk."

He was accused of putting his son in front of the issue.

A handful of people with disabilities also spoke, both of the desperate need for this type of housing, but also the disgust they felt after hearing some of the comments leveled by a few of the residents.

Council also took exception.

"I felt sick to my stomach about some of the character assassinations and speculation that was made," said Coun. Gail Given.

"It made me feel nauseous because I really expected something different."

"Statements were made I wish I didn't hear either," added Coun. Charlie Hodge.

Up for debate Tuesday was rezoning from two dwelling housing to RM3, low density multiple housing, and not the look or height of the development.

The rezoning application was approved unanimously.

"We are looking at a small bump (in density) to RM3," said Mayor Colin Basran.

"It does not mean I support five storeys."

Council was almost in unanimous agreement that, despite the rezoning, the current look and size could be problematic.

During initial consideration last month, planner Jocelyn Black said a variance from three storeys which the RM3 zone allows, to the suggested five storeys "is not deemed to be acceptable."

Any discussion on height would come back to council during the development application process.

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