KELOWNA - “Onward and upward,” was all Kelowna Coun. Ryan Donn had to say after the approval last night of the Westcorp hotel project downtown.
Donn and Coun. Charlie Hodge were the sole opposition at council after a public hearing into the development variance requested by Westcorp for a much larger 33-storey hotel and condominium complex, the largest in Kelowna’s history.
Despite a negative recommendation from planning staff, Mayor Colin Basran and councillors Luke Stack, Brad Sieben, Gail Given and Mohini Singh voted in favour of the change that comes close to doubling the size of the project while adding 49 luxury condos on top of the originally proposed hotel.
Donn said most people addressing council at Tuesday’s public hearing spoke in favour of the project, extolling its virtues and shrugging off the concerns of planning staff who thought the project much too big for its location, one of Kelowna’s most prominent high-rise sites.
However reaction to the decision on social media was much less enthusiastic, in part because of the project’s prime location on the former Willow Inn hotel site.
The construction timeline for the new building is not clear. Westcorp plans to begin selling condominiums as soon as possible however construction won’t begin until near the end of the year.
The Alberta-based development company previously announced it would begin construction in 2016, after securing approval for a 26-storey hotel, only to let its development permit expire before submitting the plan approved last night.
In voting for the project, Mayor Colin Basran noted the development’s long history.
In 2007 Westcorp principal Phil Milroy financed what is known as a comprehensive development plan for a large swath of downtown, where the company also owns other property.
The plan, known as CD-21, would have governed not only the construction of the hotel site but also those around it, including height and density but also the placement of urban parks and street closures.
Centrepiece of the plan would have been the Westcorp hotel on land purchased in 2003, originally envisioned by the company as jutting out into Okanagan Lake, sitting in part on land in Kerry Park.
Public pressure at the time pushed the company to scale down their original plans and pull it back from the water’s edge but it was ultimately all for naught as council of the day voted against the plan.
The pullback in Kelowna's real estate market after the recession put the project back on ice.
Construction on a 26-storey hotel was finally set to begin in 2016, when Calgary-based Westcorp abruptly announced another delay, claiming at the time further study was needed of the water table in the area.
Instead of proceeding, the company this summer submitted a new design, pushing much of the parking underground and adding six storeys and 49 market condominiums to the original hotel, conference centre, restaurants and shops.
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