By Julie Whittet
The robust tourist-commercial development proposed for the Hiawatha RV Park may be too ambitious for its own good – and for the residents of Kelowna.
Nearly three hours of public input at last night's public hearing revealed overwhelming opposition to Westcorp's mega-development. All but one of the 32 speakers who came forward urged city councillors to deny the zoning amendment for Edmonton-based developer Westcorp. If approved, Westcorp would be able to demolish the Hiawatha RV Park in a year's time to build a new urban centre of townhomes, apartments, hotels and commercial units.
Current residents of the park and from the surrounding Mission area filled council chambers to capacity last night, as they patiently waited for their turn to speak. Mobile home-owners currently living in the park came with emotional but carefully detailed accounts of their failed negotations with Westcorp.
“They gave us a take it or leave it attitude,” said park resident Sandy Campbell, of Westcorp's compensation options for the park's 18 remaining home-owners, many of them seniors. Some said they poured their life savings into what they thought would be their final retirement home, but the prices assessed by Westcorp offer a mere fraction of that value.
“We're forced to stay due to financial restrictions, many of us are single and live on single incomes,” Campbell said. Relocation options such as selling their homes, relocating to another park, or subsidized low-rent housing, are simply not viable, she said.
“We need the money,” she said. “Are you going to allow Westcorp to spend millions on a creek while not being fair with your taxpayers?” Campbell asked. Westcorp will be spending $1.5 million on a restoration of Wilson Creek to make up for the increased density and height of its proposed development.
“We should not neglect our senior citizens for the sake of development,” said another speaker, Ernie Patterson. “If approved tonight, you will set a dangerous precedent for other RV parks."
And the public opposition did not stop there.
Many of the witnesses last night came from neighbourhoods around the Hiawatha site and expressed serious doubt about the project design – particularly its traffic and density impacts. Many were concerned a new access road from the Hiawatha site onto Cook Road would mean disaster for the already traffic congested area.
“It's a wall of traffic,” said Cathy Dillon, a local resident of Somerville Corner who came to listen to the hearing. “You need to at least see to get onto Cook Road.”
Others were concerned Lakeshore Road does not have the capacity to bear the brunt of construction traffic, not to mention a new 900-unit residential community. Some raised questions about safety and lack of transit service in area that will soon be bursting at the seams with the expansion of Manteo Resort, South Pandosy Village and the new hospital further up the road.
Westcorp assured council its development would open up affordable housing options for young families in Kelowna, accommodating a range of demographics.
“Our objective is to create a community that feels good to live in,” said Gail Temple, Westcorp spokesperson. But if last night's hearing made anything clear, they have to convince many area residents of that.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Julie Whittet at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (250) 718-0428.