'I think it's ugly as sin': Sharron Simpson blasts proposed 33-storey hotel, condo project in Kelowna - InfoNews

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'I think it's ugly as sin': Sharron Simpson blasts proposed 33-storey hotel, condo project in Kelowna

An artist's rendering of a 24-storey hotel in downtown Kelowna, previously proposed for the former Willow Inn site.
Image Credit: Contributed
February 26, 2018 - 7:30 PM

KELOWNA - Sharron Simpson won’t be living in the shadow of the Westcorp building should it ever be built but her long association with the area gives her emeritus status of sorts and she doesn’t hesitate to use it to blast the project.

“I think it’s terrible, it’s ugly as sin. Why is council plopping this great monstrosity in a heritage area of two- and three- story buildings? And why is council so enamoured with Phil Milroy? Look at his track record. He doesn’t deliver,” Simpson says.

She questions the judgement of council, going against recommendations of its own planning department, and threatening the very nature of downtown Kelowna by approving the 33-storey hotel and condo project on the former Willow Inn site.

“It’s going to totally overshadow the one area that makes downtown Kelowna unique. There is absolutely no long-term vision on display here,” Simpson says. “They’re going to destroy what makes Kelowna special and make it look like everywhere else. They’re going to make it like Coal Harbour in Vancouver.”

Simpson said council has made a mockery of the public consultation process, which she says has been hijacked by the developer and downtown interest groups with little interest beyond their own bottom lines.

“They orchestrate these things to show support,” Simpson adds. “They did that with the visitor’s centre."

She also questions the political donations made by Milroy to seven of the nine Kelowna councillors (with the exception of Coun. Ryan Donn and Coun. Charlie Hodge) including all five who voted for the project last week (Coun. Tracy Gray was absent and Coun. Maxine DeHart who excused herself).

“It’s just bad optics,” she says “It is an ethical thing and it looks like a conflict of interest."

Elections BC records show Milroy during the 2014 municipal elections donated $500 each to the election campaigns of Coun. Gail Given and Coun. Maxine Dehart and $1,000 to Coun. Brad Sieben under the corporate name Downtown Marina Inc. DeHart received another $500 through Westcorp Property Inc.

Westcorp Property Management made two $500 donations to Coun. Luke Stack, another $1,000 to Sieben, another $500 donation to Given and a $1,000 donation to Coun. Mohini Singh.

Mayor Colin Basran received two $1,000 donations from Westcorp Property Management in 2014.

Simpson's name will be forever attached through her father to the chunk of downtown Kelowna that lies under Kelowna city hall and other civic buildings including Kelowna Museum and the Memorial Arena.

Her father S.M. Simpson in 1946 provided 11 acres of land to the city along with a covenant restricting the parcel to non-commercial municipal use.

The younger Simpson has been a thorn in the side of previous council’s under Mayor Walter Gray and Sharon Shepherd as well as Westcorp principal Phil Milroy since 2003 when he first proposed Lawsons Landing.

The ambitious five-building project would have jutted out into Okanagan Lake but would also have encroached on Simpson covenant lands, a detail Gray overlooked during negotiations with Milroy.

Simpson and her family balked at the suggestion and took the city to court and won in 2008 when Mayor Shepherd and the city tried ultimately futile legal means to remove the covenant.

The project is the second approved for the former Willow Inn site. In 2016, council approved a 26-story hotel and long-term rental condominium project but Westcorp let its building permit lapse in favour of the redesign first presented to council last summer.

Simpson would love to see something more restrictive than a simple zoning bylaw for downtown high-rise development which is easily overturned by a development variance request at the whim of council.

“If there was some way to bring in a plan that would give us a basic understanding of what downtown is going to look like,” she said. “Not something totally static, there has to be room for some change, but something that lays out where we’re going. Unless we can carve out something unique here, there will be no reason to come here and I think we’re in danger of losing that.”

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