May 16, 2015 - 2:31 PM
KELOWNA - When the Conservatory was first proposed 15 years ago on the corner of Glenmore Drive, the high-end seniors housing project was big news.
Original plans called for twin towers containing some 1,200 strata units with commercial space and a two-acre indoor tropical garden housed in a glass-walled atrium.
Somewhere along the way that dream died, amidst stalled construction, incomplete financing and bad planning.
Locals will recall the project grinding to a halt several times, at one point leaving a giant hole in the ground for a couple years and at another, a half-built shell of a high-rise for several more.
The sad tale of the original Conservatory project may finally come to a close in a couple of weeks when an application to rezone the land where the second tower would have sat from multi-family residential to commercial will go to a public hearing.
So what’s going to replace the dream? If the rezoning goes through, locals can expect another strip mall.
Ryan Roycroft, a planner with the city, explained a local consortium picked up the property a few years ago and finished off the tower which made it through construction, turning it into rental apartments.
“Where that group is at now is they have found an institutional buyer, Realstar Group, for the Conservatory,” he said. “Realstar wants to maintain it as a real estate investment and sell off the rest of the land.”
Local developer Scuka Enterprises is already advertising retail opportunities in the blandly-named Hillside Plaza, and is willing to buy it, but needs the property rezoned to commercial before the land purchase is complete.
Residents around the Conservatory who waited patiently through the project’s many trials and tribulations may not be too excited to see a strip mall replace what was supposed to be a glass tower, but Roycroft says the city is happy to see movement on the project.
“This is the next evolution of the development of the site. It’s moving toward something realistic in today’s market,” he says.
The original Conservatory project was started by the Marshalls, a pioneering Kelowna family that at one point owned much of the land in the area and had orchards on it.
When Kelowna grew up around them, they gradually began turning their orchard land into single-family residential housing. The Conservatory was a departure for them and it immediately ran into difficulties.
“It’s very difficult. They were getting into serious big concrete building development which is another world in terms of financing and capital. It’s a different skill set entirely,” Roycroft says.
It’s not a done deal yet. Council has yet to give final approval to a zoning amendment which requires a public hearing, set for May 26, but Roycroft says staff are supportive of the zoning amendment.
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