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Highrise eyesores disappear as the economy improves

A woman walks by the shell of the former Lucaya development on Sunset Drive in Kelowna.
September 17, 2015 - 9:01 PM

KELOWNA - It was a study in contrasts — million-dollar condos that looked out over a post-apocolyptic graffiti-covered cement hulk surrounded by garbage-filled weeds, home only to the homeless in downtown Kelowna.

The rusting foundation of a high-rise that has blighted Sunset Drive since shortly after the 2008 recession was once known as Lucaya but will soon be reborn as Grace.

But it's only in the last few years the new owners made any real attempt to clean the place up.

“It was our biggest problem from a security and nuisance perspective. There was graffiti and people camping. There was this big construction crane hanging over, birds were all over the crane, pooping on people’s patios," the city's community planning manager Ryan Smith says.

But with market conditions improving, a Chinese developer is moving ahead with plans to revive the project, something Smith says eventually happens to most stalled or abandoned projects.

“The market kills these projects and the market brings them back," Smith says. "Inevitably, the price becomes right. If it sells, then it’s off to the races with the new owner.”

Lucaya isn’t the only stalled high-rise Kelowna has seen since the 2008 recession.

SOPA Square, what was supposed to be the centre piece of the Pandosy town centre, went into receivership in January, 2014 but was recently revived by the Aquilini family of Vancouver.

The Conservatory, a multi-tower residential condo project proposed for North Glenmore went through multiple stalled construction efforts starting in the early 2000s before emerging as a single residential tower with rental units in 2012.

On Leckie, the Shaw building sat for the first few years of its life in the mid-2000s as a five story shell of a concrete slab building before a new owner finished off the exterior. It still sits empty today, unfinished inside with no parking lot or landscaping, and is available for commercial lease.

Bringing a big project out of mothballs isn’t just a matter of firing up the cranes and bringing in the cement trucks.

Any changes to the original development permit brings a project back to square one and they must again be vetted with city planners and most likely go through the public hearing process with Kelowna city council.

The Lucaya developers, for example, have asked about increasing the number of units.

“They will definitely be going before council again," Smith says. "They can’t start selling real estate until the have a new development permit which is going to take at least three months.”

Smith says there’s not much the city can do about large-scale construction projects that, for whatever reason, go off the rails.

“We can’t stop them from stopping construction and we can’t make them start construction once they’ve stopped. It’s a matter of making these sites secure and trying to get someone to do regular maintenance and maybe get security patrols to go through there," he says.

Smith says the city would much prefer development projects don’t start or voluntarily scale themselves back than have them start and then fail, sometimes sitting as urban eyesores for years.

“We probably see more projects go through the permitting process and then not proceed than those those that go ahead. It means they are taking a good, sobre look at the logistics and finances of a project before going ahead. That’s what we like to see."

To contact the reporter for this story, email John McDonald at jmcdonald@infonews.ca or call 250-808-0143. To contact the editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

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