KELOWNA - After over 50 speakers and five hours of discussion, Kelowna city council voted to a proposed waterfront tourism centre last night
The over 3,300 square foot building will go in the current parking lot at the Queensway Jetty. Following a public hearing at city council chambers last night, Jan. 25, council rezoned the land from parks and open space, to major institutional.
Around 250 people packed council chamber with people filling every seat and space along the wall, and overflowing into the hallway.
Fifty members of public addressed council during the public hearing, 25 showing their support for the project, and 25 expressing their opposition.
At 11:30 p.m., council voted seven to one, in favour of the rezoning.
“I want people to get out and walk along our boardwalk,” Coun. Gail Given said. “I think this project is a balance between the economy, valuing park space, and a future vision for our young people.”
Coun. Charlie Hodge was the only councillor who voted against the rezoning.
“Sometimes it does boil down to just hearing from people and I heard enough people say this was not right for them,” he said.
Prior to the meeting, the City received just under 300 letters about the tourism centre, with the vast majority opposed to the project. Out of 294 letters, 202 were opposed, 91 in support and there was one letter of comment.
There was a common theme amongst those who chose not to support the project - the protection of waterfront and park land.
“We deserve to have a spectacular park void of public buildings,” Kelowna resident Celina Manson said. “We want long term gain for the residents of Kelowna.”
“Tourism Kelowna does not represent people, it represents corporations,” Ian Palmer said, as he held up a sign saying “take your corporate hands off our public land.”
A member of the Kelowna Peace Group, Amber Nedelec, told council that to take away the chance for a potential park was unacceptable.
“We should do the opposite of what Joni Mitchell was singing about and take out the parking lot and put in the paradise,” she said.
Those in favour of the project seemed to represent the business sector of Kelowna.
Aman Dosanj emigrated to Kelowna from England with her parents at the age of 15. The previous co-owner of Poppadoms, said Tourism Kelowna is a friend to local business.
“Tourism Kelowna were the people who made us be seen,” she said. “My restaurant used to be in McCurdy Corner, I know how hard it is not to be in the City centre.”
The majority of council reflected the emphasis on supporting local business.
“I won’t apologize for making decisions that allow opportunities for small business and entrepreneurs in our community,” Coun. Tracy Gray said.
Kelowna resident Lisa Stevenson said the project would be more than a building, but a natural hub for visitors and residents.
“If this centre is built, “let’s meet at the tourism centre” will become a common saying,” she said.
The plan for the building shows a glass exterior with wooden detailing. Green space will surround the centre, and the building itself will be set back 15 metres from the water.
In the end, Mayor Colin Basran said he felt the project was a good compromise between a tourist centre and a park.
“We can’t turn our back on tourism,” he said. “This is a year-round industry and every year it gets closer to a billion dollar industry.”
According to Tourism Kelowna president Daniel Bibby, construction for the project is aimed to start in late spring of this year.
The centre is expected to cost $2.8 million.
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