Change Kelowna's OCP

"Again this [UBCO tower] is an exception. I don't see us approving many more at this height.... There is going to be heat island effect."

former Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran, (July 26, 2022)

To date, the total number of storeys in Kelowna highrises— already built, on the books and proposed—is about 1,000 storeys.

(City resident) Bernard Dumont asks in his open letter to (current) Kelowna Mayor Tom Dyas: "Why are city planning and the city council approving so many buildings exceeding the heights prescribed in the OCP?"

Good question!

On July 11, Kelowna city council voted to approve four new highrises on Ellis Street at Gaston Avenue. The Waterscapes highrises will be 28, 32, 34 and 36 storeys tall. As a result, the developer will make a contribution of $2.38 million to the city's affordable housing fund (Housing Opportunities Reserve Fund).

Big deal, $2.38 million is chump change. That's the equivalent of two or 2.5 residential lots, because the average house in Kelowna now costs about $1 million.

The four highrises will be in addition to the 13 existing ones in the downtown core. Five more are under construction and five others have since been approved, but not yet started. By comparison, on July 27 Victoria city council voted to send a 17-storey, 102-unit condominium project proposed for James Bay back for redesign, after concerns were raised that it’s too high for the area.

Research shows highrises emit more greenhouse gases per resident per day than low-rise and medium-rise residential buildings. They are especially polluting when their construction process is taken into account because they require massive concrete foundations.

Highrises also retain heat during the day and release it at night, which contributes to the “heat island” effect and can prevent adequate cooling for those on the street.

The Meet Me On Bernard website states: "Meet Me On Bernard is a vibrant outdoor pedestrian zone in downtown Kelowna featuring sunny patios, parklets, local retail, street games and special events."

Let's time-travel 10 years into the future. Kelowna news, summer 2033: "Summer's here! Kelowna stores and street vendors can't keep in stock the popular refrigerant-cooled Kevlar hats and ponchos for residents and tourists alike, needed to withstand the growing number of high 40 and 50-plus C temperatures while walking in the downtown core."

Sound far-fetched? During June and July 2021, the heat dome in B.C. resulted in Canada’s all-time high temperature of 49.6 C, fanning the flames of a fire that burned down Lytton on June 30.

This year, June's global average temperature was the hottest June on record and preliminary analyses already show July was the hottest July on record.

From a July 25 BBC News article, U.S. heatwave leads to rising number of burns, medics say: "Dr. Kevin Foster of the Arizona Burn Centre tells BBC News that all of the centre's 45 hospital beds are currently occupied, and around one-third of those patients have suffered severe contact burns from scorching concrete and asphalt surfaces."

Two days later, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned in a speech at the U.N. headquarters: "Climate change is here. It is terrifying. And it is just the beginning. The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived."

Many dictionaries define the word “plan” as "a proposed or intended course of action".

But if everything in Kelowna's 2040 Official Community Plan (OCP) can be modified or changed to suit the wishes of developers—when city planners recommend rezoning or a new variance (land use exception) to council— then how is it really a "plan" at all?

The OCP isn't worth the paper it's written on.

To reflect reality, the name of the OCP should be updated to the OCCCP—Official Community Continuously Changing Plan.

There appears to be an ever-accelerating amount of rubber-stamping done by city council to approve virtually every building project that developers want (and that city planners recommend).

Can someone give 12 examples in the last 12 years when a Kelowna city council made a collective decision that put the interests of everyday (residents) ahead of developers' interests?

Perhaps this rubber-stamping phenomenon can be best explained as a combination of:

A) "Groupthink" (a term coined in 1952 by urbanist William H. Whyte Jr.)

B) An appeal to authority. City staff/planners are the experts. So if they recommend X, then their opinion or recommendation must be the right one.

After the October 2022 Kelowna municipal election, Coun. Mohini Singh was interviewed and said, in part: "And one of the things I heard loud and clear was that ‘we [the public] need to be listened to. Hear our concerns.' This is what I heard from the voters. But then I also need to remind our voters that we can't vote on popular opinion. We have to do what's right for the city: what experts tell us which way urban planning processes have to go. What’s—what is the right path forward for Kelowna."

Wow. The way urban planning processes “have” to go?

I wonder how many times Kelowna city staff, in the last 12 years, have completed impact analysis/constraints mapping on land before bringing their recommendations to council?

Would someone in the city’s planning department, or a current member of city council, care to tell us? Enquiring minds want to know!

Maybe we should just cut to the chase.

A modest proposal:

1. Kelowna's 1905 motto, "Fruitful in Unity" is just too old-fashioned for the Kelowna of the 21st century. Scrap the motto in favour of the forward-thinking "Fruitful in Mega Towers".

2. Tweak the term “Kelowna city council” to "Kelowna city planners and developers council".

3. Pass a motion to make "Time To Go Outdoors" by Hot Hot Heat the official song of Kelowna.

4. In the foyer of Kelowna City Hall, install a large television screen that continuously plays the 10-minute 1968 animated film "Boomsville" from Canada's National Film Board, an ironic view of city planning, or rather, the lack of it, and what has happened to our cities as a result.

The lasting legacy of Kelowna city councils, city planners and developers will be their collective contribution to Kelowna's “heat island” effect.

David Buckna, Kelowna

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