New Kelowna council passes its first tests

Meeting expectations

Kelowna’s new city council faced two big tests in its first couple of meetings and it appears it was clearly listening to the concerns raised by residents during the election.

The first test came in the form of a new 19-storey rental tower located at 1333 Bertram Street. The tower includes 157 rental units and 130 parking spots, with 15% of the rental units being dedicated to affordable housing units — monitored by CMHC.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, residents said they wanted (council) to follow the Official Community Plan and planning documents and 19 storeys is seven storeys taller than prescribed by the OCP.

But wait, there’s a key detail here.

The maximum building height in the neighbourhood, as set out by the OCP, is 12 storeys, or 44 metres, tall. However, the city has a new density bonus bylaw that applies in core neighbourhoods, which allows for an additional three storeys or 12 metres in height.

That brings the allowable height, according to all city documents for this site, to 15 storeys or 56 metres. The 19 storey tower approved for the site was four storeys taller than that, however it was 56 metres in height.

That means the building, despite having more floors than allowable, was, in terms of height, exactly what was allowed under the OCP.

Furthermore, the project brought with it 15% affordable units, something people said the city should demand from developers seeking variances.

Valid concerns were raised regarding the parking discounts and the density bonusing program. Several members of council raised concerns with some of these city programs, including Counc. Ron Cannan, who ultimately voted against the project based on the number of variances (five) requested by the applicant.

Given the concerns raised about these programs, we will likely see this new council look to change some of these programs. But for the time being, those are the rules.

At the end of the day, this project fit within the height restrictions guided by city documents and included 15% affordable units. It was a perfect example of the type of project that many candidates said they would fight for.

The second major test for council was the housing agreement tied to the project slated for the former RCMP site, located at 350 Doyle Avenue.

The developer of the controversial project proposed said affordable units contained within the building would be studio apartments and available for $2,050 per month. Thiat was, of course, a ridiculous amount to be considered affordable.

To get to this number, the developer used median household income levels, meaning it included dual family incomes to come up with the number.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve lived in a studio apartments with my partner but it’s not common or enjoyable. I also did this while we were in university and lived in downtown Toronto. That’s not the living arrangement people in Kelowna are looking for.

I’ll also add that this was two years ago and we were paying $1,888 per month, less than what the developer now considers “affordable” for Kelowna.

When the housing agreement went to council, Mayor Tom Dyas refused to vote on the actual agreement and instead steered council towards discussing the affordability aspect in general.

Following a debate amongst all members of council and saying the proposal was absolutely unacceptable, council unanimously sent the developer a message to “do better.”

Those were two key tests in the new council’s post-election mandate and they did well. That won’t always be the case, it’s going to make mistakes — but it was a good start.

Disclosure: Adam Wilson was campaign manager for Kelowna mayoral candidate Tom Dyas in the civic election.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More Wilson on Water Street articles

About the Author

Adam Wilson is from Kelowna and has an educational background in urban planning, where he published his research on the politicization of cycling infrastructure in the Journal of Transportation Geography. 

Adam was named as one of Kelowna’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2017 for both his research into cycling infrastructure and a number of political interviews he had done with Macleans, the National Post and CBC News. 

He previously worked as an urban planner in Toronto, where he focused on provincial legislation and municipal approval processes.

Most recently, Adam worked for Ontario’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, where he held various positions, including as the minister’s executive director of policy and strategic planning, and the minister’s director of communications. 

Adam now lives in Kelowna with his partner and works in the health care sector, while running his own consultancy that provides strategic advice on local municipal issues.

Email Adam at: [email protected]

His website is adamwilson.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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