Kelowna council wavering in its vision on how to house its next 50,000 residents | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna council wavering in its vision on how to house its next 50,000 residents

February 27, 2019 - 5:30 PM

KELOWNA - City council could change its vision for Kelowna’s future yet again next week after weathering heavy lobbying efforts from developers.

At issue is how many single-family homes will be allowed in the city by 2040 as an expected 50,000 new residents move here.

“I made my stance based on the information I had at that point,” Coun. Charlie Hodge told, referring to his vote on Dec. 10, 2018. “I would not like to think I’m so arrogant that I wouldn’t think of changing my mind if I can be persuaded.”

He’s not the only councillor to consider changing their vote.

Various options for future growth were presented to council last year, with an option that limited single-family houses to 20 per cent of all new homes being the highest ranked.

In July 2018, council suggested a less restrictive approach so city staff came back with a report in September that showed 25 per cent single-family homes, which seemed to have the support of council.

But, when council reviewed it again in December, they opted to be more restrictive, passing a motion for 20 per cent single-family by a rare 5-4 vote.

The debate returns to council chambers next week with details of what developments might be impacted if they stick to their guns.

Hodge was one of four councillors (Mohini Singh, Loyal Wooldridge and Ryan Donn) who joined with Mayor Colin Basran in supporting the more restrictive growth model.

What that meant was that about 3,000 homes in areas of the city already designated for single-family housing would not be built.

That led to a backlash from the Urban Development Institute that wrote a nine-page memo urging council to change its mind back to the option allowing for more single-family.

One of the institute’s key points is that council will be reneging on committments already given to housing developers.

“Wilden, Kirschner Mountain and the Ponds are all exposed to having lands that are currently supported for development re-designated for some non-development use,” the report states, adding that will have a financial impact on developers who have spent money on roads and services expecting a full build-out of their projects.

It also suggests this is bad faith on the part of the city, will cost the city in lost taxes and may mean some proposed parks and trails won’t get built.

Hodge says he won’t be swayed by what the developer group says but, he is meeting with three different developers later this week and will listen to what they have to say. He’ll also review city staff’s report, that will come out Thursday, before making up his mind.

“Part of what I’ve been hearing, and I imagine I will hear more about, is ‘we’ve got something midstream and how do you expect us to stop in midstream?’” Hodge said. “That’s valid.”

For Singh, it’s not the impact on developers she’s most concerned about.

“I realize the very thing we were looking at preserving, which is the environment, is the very thing that will be impacted,” she said. “People will want single-family houses and will go outside Kelowna and will be driving into our city and using our roads and not paying into our tax base.”

Singh’s concern – which is echoed by those who voted in December for more single-family houses – is that young people with families, like those moving in to work at places like UBCO and Kelowna Airport, are going to want single-family homes and will build them in Lake Country instead.

Wooldridge echoed Hodge’s concerns about the impact on developers.

“I’m waiting to see staff’s presentation,” he said. “When we actually see certain neighbourhoods and possible developments that are already approved and we’re revoking those development rights, that’s a different story. So, I’m really kind of reserving my vote until I see that report.”

Danielle Noble-Brandt, the city’s Policy and Planning Department Manager, will be sending that report to council.

She told that there is a difference between land that is zoned and land that is designated for a certain type of housing but not yet rezoned.

The current council can change the future land use designation, even though there may be implied development rights.

Noble-Brandt also added Black Mountain to the list of possible areas that may be impacted to those in the Urban Development Institute memo.

She estimated that the difference between the two options is about 3,000 houses but that number will be confirmed in her report.

Donn said he was one of the strongest votes for having fewer single-family houses and is still philosophically in favour. But, he’s also waiting for staff’s report before making a final decision.

It hasn’t just been developers lobbying councillors. Supporters have also weighed in.

Most recently, Robert Stupka, who ran for the Green Party in the Kelowna-West provincial by-election last year, has drafted an 18-page detailed counter-argument to the Urban Development Institute paper.

One of his key points is the current option was the one that had the most public support in past consultation sessions. He also points to the massive infrastructure costs taxpayers face providing services to single family homes over multi family. 

As for the lobbying efforts, Donn wrote in a text that “this would be the biggest lobby push by developers that I’ve experienced.”

Mayor Colin Basran did not return a phone message before publication deadline but did say, during the Dec. 10 debate that the fewer single-family home (20 per cent) option is “where my heart’s at.”

- This story was corrected on Feb. 28, 2019 at 1:15 p.m. to change 25 per cent to 20 per cent.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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