Supporters of downtown development paid for their attendance at public hearing

Support bought, paid for

Kelowna city council will be asked to take the unusual step of rescinding a previously approved development permit for what staff call a "tainted process."

It centers around a decision by council to issue development and development variance permits to Appelt Properties for its development on the former Doyle Avenue RCMP property following a public hearing July 26, 2022.

According to a report from the city clerk's office, a company hired by Appelt to engage the public paid people $250 to speak in favour of the development at last year's public hearing.

While the company, JDH Naturals said the payments were capped at $250 and were reimbursements for lost earnings, travel, parking and meal expenses — the city concluded it seems highly unlikely that each of the presenters expenses reached that same amount.

Most who spoke in favour of the development were students or former students who spoke of the need for more affordable downtown housing which the project did provide, however one of those was the principal of JDH Naturals.

The report adds five members of council referenced either affordable or student housing as a concern during their remarks.

"The direct payment to individuals to speak in favour (or opposed) to an application undermines public confidence in the public process to the extent of calling into question the validity of the public hearing or meeting. Council's decision, based as it was on paid statements of support, is subsequently tainted," the report says.

Council is being asked to rescind all motions made that evening to address the issue.

If council does rescind permits for the project, Appelt will have the ability to reapply with a new proposal.

That proposal would have to include pre-established conditions including a connection to the Art Walk and community space within the development.

Redevelopment of the former RCMP site has been met with controversy through much of the process.

There was some pushback when the city first entered into a lease agreement with Rise Commercial Developments (now Appelt Properties) in 2021.

The city was paid $7 million for an initial 80-year lease, with $4.3 million to be reinvested into the site for development of a new civic plaza, extension of the Artwalk, as well as a 6,000 square foot community amenity space.

An initial proposal for a 13-storey mixed-use building on the site was opposed by occupants of the Innovation Centre who complained the massive design restricted their view from the rooftop patio.

A sleeker, 25-storey design was brought forward instead consisting of 259 rental units, 10 per cent of which would be affordable for a minimum of 10 years.

Representatives of Appelt Properties will be given a chance to address council Monday.

Castanet has reached out to company representatives for comment.

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