The former 40-acre waterfront Tolko mill is destined for redevelopment and Kelowna residents have no idea what its future will look like.
The mill has been closed since January 2020 and is undergoing a detailed environmental assessment that Tolko has until February 2022 to submit. This means we’re potentially years away from seeing any developer’s vision for this massive, prime waterfront parcel.
But should we wait years to understand what the city’s vision is for the site?
Yes, it’s private property and the city doesn’t own it — meaning regardless of its scale and importance to the future of downtown, the city can’t necessarily dictate what it’s going to look like in detail.
However, the site will need significant zoning changes to proceed with its redevelopment, so the city does have some power.
It’s at a time like this where a strong future-oriented vision from the city is crucial. Kelowna city planners have said that they have had discussions with parties interested in the future of the site, but nothing more.
They also indicated they will do planning work regarding the site in the upcoming 2040 Official Community Plan (OCP), but no more.
Tolko and any potential purchaser will already be working on their vision and running their numbers, and not waiting for the future 2040 OCP to be released.
This wait-and-see strategy isn’t bold, it isn’t visionary, and it isn’t effective.
So what could the city be doing?
One option would be to put forward a semi-detailed vision of what they believe the area should look like.
This would include maximum building heights, park space, water access, land uses, and major roads and other infrastructure the city believes it requires developed with public input.
Once this general vision is created, the city can share it with the public and the developer and say that this vision is what they want to see there.
The city can’t force the developer to do everything it wants, but it can certainly entice the developer to follow the vision.
What if Kelowna gave the developer this ideal plan and said that if they stay close to this vision, the city will expedite the development approvals process?
Expedited development approvals could save the developer years and hundreds of thousands to potentially millions of dollars.
In return, the city will have dictated the future of its downtown, rather than first waiting for a developer to provide an approach and then simply arguing over heights and beach accesses for years.
If the developer goes their own route, then that’s okay, the project would simply go through the same slow approvals process like any other project and the city can use its developed vision to guide discussions.
This isn’t the kind of process the city should undertake with every street and every lot across our community, because it’s a lot of time and work without a guarantee. However, when it comes to a 40-acre waterfront redevelopment that will shape our future, it’s worth it.
Kelowna and its Council has an opportunity to shape the future of our downtown for generations to come - let’s not waste it.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.