Why Kelowna may be heading toward a downtown highrise overbuild
The most visible sign that Kelowna is the fastest growing major metropolitan area in Canada with the third-fastest growing downtown core is the plethora of highrises that are not only under construction but in the works.
There are 25 highrises with a total of 558 storeys that are either currently under construction in Kelowna, approved or in the approval process.
While some of those are hotel, commercial and office spaces, there are more than 4,000 residential housing units proposed – some condos but many rentals – about 1,000 of which could be single-occupancy student housing in or near the planned UBC Okanagan downtown vertical campus.
“When we look at that amount of development happening downtown, it’s great to see it as a vote of confidence for the vision of the Official Community Plan – getting more development, getting more residential units into our downtown and into our urban centres,” Robert Miles, the city’s Official Community Plan project manager, told iNFOnews.ca.
Still, at 2.3 people per household – as there were at the time of the 2021 census – that means housing for 9,200 people could be built, just in downtown highrises, by the time the next census rolls around in 2026.
That sounds great, given the skyrocketing price of real estate in the city and the shortage of affordable rentals. But is it too much concentrated in one area all at, relatively, the same time?
City of Kelowna staff estimate population growth of 45,000 by 2040, or about 11,250 per five-year census period.
Given that Kelowna grew by 13.5% during the last census period and added 17,186 people, it’s more likely that there will be 19,500 more people living in the city when the 2026 census is taken.
They’ll need about 8,500 new housing units to live in.
That’s for the whole city, not just downtown highrises which, even at the most generous population growth scenarios, will have room for half the new residents moving to Kelowna.
The city’s 20-year plan for growth envisions only 18% of the newcomers living downtown, which will require more like 1,500 new homes, not the 4,000 currently projected.
And these calculations only account for highrise units, not all the other lower-rise apartments and condos being built in the downtown core.
It could be that many existing residents will shift to living in downtown highrises, freeing up their old homes in other parts of the city. Or, it could mean that, some of these projects will not get built in the short term. Projects of this magnitude take longer to wend their way through City Hall and can take another two to four years to actually get built.
“What we’re seeing here is a lot interest in that (downtown growth) vision right up front but the important thing to remember is these developments, even if they move forward quite quickly, are a number of years away," Miles said.
"I would say longer than three or four years. We don’t know if all of these projects are going to proceed right away, if they’re going to proceed much later than anticipated or if they are going to not proceed at all. We’ve had a number of projects over the years that, they go through a rezoning, they go through development permits and then the market conditions change and they don’t take place for some time.”
That’s what happened to a couple of those pictured on Eric MacMillan’s 3D models of the city’s future skyline in the renderings included in this article. He's an environmental engineer who has created growth projection visions of a number of Canadian cities.
For Kelowna, he still has the 22-storey, 102-unit Aura that was proposed at the corner of Harvey Avenue and Pandosy Street in 2018 and never got built.
He also includes the 22 and 30-storey Monaco towers proposed in 2014 to fit between the Madison and the planned UBCO site at Doyle Avenue and St. Paul Street.
The rendering still shows the 2020, which was originally proposed as a 46-storey tower next to the Bernard Block on Bertram Street. That was reduced to 35 storeys and still got rejected by city council but may come back in a lower form.
The rendering also includes two towers, 27 and 37 storeys, essentially in the Prospera Place parking lot, that are in the longer-range plan.
He’s updated it to include the three towers recently proposed for Coronation Avenue and a height change at the 550 Doyle Ave. project.
Still, the renderings show what Kelowna’s skyline just might look like by the time the next census is taken in 2026.
The city’s plan is designed for regular updates and staff are keeping a close eye on what actually gets built, Miles pointed out.
Last year, there were 3,200 new housing units started or built in the city, which was a boom year. At that rate, another 12,000 could be built by 2026, with one-third of those projected so far for downtown high-rises.
— This story was updated at 9:45 a.m., May 16, 2022 to correct City of Kelowna population estimates.
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