CD21 Zone goes back to square one

Kelowna City Council has taken two steps back in hopes of eventually moving forward with a plan to re-develop and re-invigorate the city's downtown core.

Council Monday voted 6-3 to rescind second and third reading of the downtown redevelopment plan (CD-21 Zone). City staff will now prepare a workshop for councillors with all pertinent information pertaining to the CD-21 Zone, and obtain more public input through a public hearing in the fall.

The decision to, essentially return to square one, did not sit well with some councillors and many in the crowd, including developer Phil Milroy.

Visibly shaken, Milroy stormed out of council chambers with a terse 'no comment' as he passed reporters outside City Hall.

Milroy's company, Westcorp Properties, has invested considerable finances into the redevelopment plan. He had hoped to develop a large hotel on the former Willow Inn site as part of the CD-21 Zone.

Those plans will now have to wait.

In fact, it was the site of the hotel, which includes a portion of Kerry Park and the former Royal Trust site, which was one of the chief concerns of councillors who would not vote to move ahead with fourth and final reading.

"I'm actually very supportive of the comprehensive development plan for downtown and I'm supportive of the use of density proposed in this CD Zone and I'm generally supportive of the height of the buildings," says Councillor Robert Hobson.

"The area that I am hung up about is the using of the piece of property in Kerry Park for a hotel. To me, that is just the wrong direction. We have spent 100 years getting our waterfront back in Kelowna, making it public. I just don't support carrying on with a plan that takes that away from the public."

Hobson says he could have supported voting for the plan if he was sure that piece of land was not part of the redevelopment zone.

"Unfortunately, because it is a comprehensive development plan, the development units within the park are an integral part of the plan. For that reason, it is very difficult to take a part of the plan apart. You can't tweak a piece of it without affecting other aspects of it."

Councillor Andre Blanleil, who fully supports the redevelopment plan, told council he would be willing to look at eliminating the hotel if it meant passing fourth reading.

"We have certainly heard from certain councillors that that was their major issue (hotel), and if that truly is, then I am willing to absolutely have that issue re-looked at if we could pass this bylaw," says Blanleil.

"To me I think this is simply a strategy to not make a decision on this bylaw today and have a chance to manipulate the bylaw into something completely different than what exists today. There are certain people on council that are very well know that don't like the height and density and I guess we should have the courage to support or kill it and move forward."

After the meeting Blanleil went a step further, questioning the leadership of the mayor.

"The mayor has clearly said in the past she doesn't support the height and I think she was a big player in the discussion in the background to not have that change and I guess to me that is a big issue of leadership," adds Blanleil.

"At the end of the day, if we go back to unravel the plan and start over again, we basically wipe out two years of process and hundreds and hundreds of public meetings."

Blanleil stopped short of accusing Shepherd of dealing in backroom politics.

Councillor Charlie Hodge, one of the six who voted to got back to first reading along with Hobson, Michele Rule, Kevin Craig, Angela Reid and the mayor, says everyone wants a revitalized downtown, but to him, it's a matter of how to get there.

"I think that the process was a very good process, but I don't think it was completed. Since the election, there has been a great deal of frustration for myself and our councillors at the table that we haven't been able to discuss this at all," says Hodge.

"I haven't learned one new thing because I wasn't allowed to. The frustration is that nothing has changed in a year. We haven't been able to move forward and it's become very divisive and I hope that stops after today."

Meantime, former mayor Walter Grey, who pleaded with council to grant fourth reading in an open letter to councillors, says council took the cautious approach.

"Other than the public maybe being disappointed that this thing is dragging on, they probably, given the choices and given the fact it wasn't going to pass today, made the right move," says Grey.

"At least the agenda is re-opened and each of the new councillors won't be able to say I didn't have input. I felt that each of the newer members of council gave me the impression they indeed do have an open mind. That's good, it's great."

Grey says it was obvious to him that the CD-21 Zone was not going to pass fourth reading.

"At one time the property the Kelowna Airport is on now didn't have a prayer either. It went to a public vote and passed by a handful of votes. Now we have a great airport and a great community as a result of it."

Nicole Rustad, who organized a public rally last Friday in support of the CD-21 Zone, says council made a big mistake in moving backwards instead of forward.

"I think the public will be very discouraged at what happened today," says Rustad.

"I think it is absolutely disgusting it happened this way. The councillors who are in office today, everybody had a chance to speak to this and I think it's a shame it happened this way."

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