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Kelowna's OCP review criticized for lack of input

May 29, 2021 - 1:30 PM

After three years of work, the City of Kelowna’s vision for the next 20 years is heading into its final stages with the full support of its citizens.

At least that’s the gist of a 130-page report going to city council on Monday outlining the latest and last round of public feedback into its draft 2040 Official Community Plan.

“The community has again expressed that the Kelowna of tomorrow should be inclusive, equitable, and sustainable,” the report states. “This means protecting our natural environment, making meaningful progress towards Reconciliation, and ensuring that everybody who lives here can make a living, find suitable housing, and get around easily and safely. To do this, we must be bold and unafraid to do things differently.”

But some major players in the consultation process have questioned the validity of that process during COVID.

“A delay in the 2040 OCP review is a responsible position to take,” developer Argus Properties wrote in a letter to the city that’s attached to the report.

“Residents have been silenced in effect due to cessation of in-person meetings and advisory committees,” the Kelowna South-Central Association of Neighbourhoods wrote.

While the report cites the fact that there were more than 14,000 visits to an online City of Kelowna site during this final consultation phase, with 3,800 downloading a draft, only 450 filled out the survey.

Those responses showed overwhelming support for key directions the city plans to take when “fully support” and “mostly support” responses are combined.

The highest ranked “key direction” was 87 per cent of respondents supporting “the vision of creating and enhancing shared spaces for more people to enjoy.”

Another 84 per cent were keen on both “making existing suburban neighbourhoods more complete” and “protecting our natural environment from the impacts of development.”

The least supported of the 10 key directions listed, at 73 per cent, was “protecting agricultural lands and hillsides from sprawl.”

Work on the plan started in 2018 with something called Imagine Kelowna.

Its five most important goals were listed as protecting land, air and water, preserving Okanagan Lake, creating great public spaces, embracing transportation options and building healthy neighbourhoods for all.

Through the planning process, 10 “pillars” for the Official Community Plan were compiled.

That list starts with a focus on investment in urban centres, stop planning new suburban neighbourhoods, target growth along transit corridors and promote more housing diversity.

The last two on the list are to protect and restore the environment and to take action on climate change.

Those who questioned the consultation process were detailed in their comments as well as their responses to specific items in the plan.

“One of the foundations for OCP 2040, from Imagine Kelowna, is missing: Collaborative – meaning ‘foster resident-driven solutions,’” the Kelowna South-Central Association of Neighbourhoods wrote. “We need to come back to look at the role of community/neighbourhood associations. We attended several OCP workshops and noted that less than 50 residents were allowed to sign up and participate, despite many low-cost online (e.g., Zoom) software packages that allow upwards of 300 participants.”

Argus questioned the ultimate value of the plan without further input.

“A delay in the 2040 OCP review is a responsible position to take and will allow Kelowna’s citizens to craft a meaningful and representative community plan that is intended to shape the future of Kelowna over the next 20 years,” it wrote. “Without meaningful, wide-spread, post-COVID community engagement, we will not build a strong foundation for the future, and the plan will have little legitimacy with the community-at-large or with the business community.”

A delay won't happen if city council endorses staff’s plans to close off any further public input, put the finishing touches on the plan and bring it back for final adoption this fall.

“As we harness input to complete plan refinements, the final plan will represent the collection of voices from across our community,” the report concludes under the title of “next steps.”

And it’s not just the consultation process that is a concern, with a number of letters questioning specific elements of the plan.

“While we are supportive of many of the policies contained within the OCP, we believe that it was initially envisioned to remain a high-level guidance document but has grown to hundreds of pages of details that staff and industry alike are challenged to navigate and interpret,” the Urban Development Institute wrote. “There are extensive interpretation issues, including many areas where the guidance conflicts with itself elsewhere in the document. The way it is currently structured, staff and industry will be challenged to have OCP compliance and thus, technically, could see a significant spike in OCP amendment applications.”

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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