Be careful what you read when it comes to development

Developing projects

Often, when you read about a new proposed development, you’re not reading something anyone other than the developer has reviewed. What you’re actually reading are the marketing materials produced by the developer, which the local news outlet has chosen to run (usually for free out of public interest in the story).

Take for example the recent stories about the future of the New Life Church site on Harvey Avenue (also home to the Woodfire Bakery). I’m not picking on this project, I could have selected just about any site in the city, but this one is the most recent at the time of writing, and I do love the Woodfire Bakery.

The developer released a sketch of the future of the site, which looks wonderful. It includes two residential towers, a new multi-purpose space for the New Life Church, lots of greenery and people happily walking around the towers.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this proposal, except for one thing — the marketing materials.

The proof is an article written about the project. The final line in the story reads “The proposed redevelopment has yet to be presented to city planning staff.” Well that’s that then.

Once a developer goes to city planning staff, staff will give them plenty of feedback, from heights, massing, design, and more. Developers will then go back and make the changes and come up with something different, all in the hope city staff will then support the application.

But the reason developers release these plans in advance is to win over public support before any of this happens. The hope is they present something that no one could oppose, it looks wonderful and meets what people are looking for, all before they get a reality check from city staff in terms of what’s actually permissible, what the city vision is, and in this example, what the Ministry of Transportation will allow.

Again there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, people are interested in what a developer’s vision is for a site when it’s first sold. It’s natural to wonder.

Presenting these best-case, yet-to-be-reviewed plans, including quotes from the developers, should be viewed simply as marketing materials but they often masquerade as news because they appear as news stories, creating an appearance this is something that’s happening.

In reality, they are years away, and multiple rounds of feedback and revisions away, from even being viewed by city council, which ultimately would approve the project.

Often, comments online about a project are filled with people blaming city council for allowing a project or for approving a beautiful building but, in reality, city council has not even seen it. Unless you read that last sentence of the article, it would appear as if the project is approved and it’s going to go ahead exactly as proposed.

Next time you read about a proposed project in your neighbourhood, it’s important to check to see if city staff have reviewed it, if the proposal been formally submitted and if council voted on it before concluding it’s happening.

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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