Kelowna’s vision of more people living downtown comes at a cost to parks | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna’s vision of more people living downtown comes at a cost to parks

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After two years of tax increases surpassing four per cent, plus about $7,000 added to the cost of every new housing unit built in Kelowna, more money is still needed to make Kelowna a city with “vibrant urban centres.”

That’s the message delivered to city council Monday, March 9, by Robert Parlane, the City’s parks planning manager.

A key focus of this city council is to concentrate growth in its urban centres but another high priority is to make the city more “liveable” by buying and developing parkland - including in the quickly growing downtown core.

The problem is, by focussing growth on places like downtown, the price of land is skyrocketing. Parlane said it’s gone from six times the cost of suburban land in 2009 to nine times the value today. Plus, the increased population may “oversubscribe” the use of existing downtown parks like City Park.

Two years ago, council agreed to an infrastructure tax increase of about two per cent every year, in part to build parks. That pushed the total tax rate each year to more than four per cent.

This year, a fee of about $7,000 was levied on developers for each new home built in the city just to develop parks. Developers already contribute roughly the same amount to buy parkland.

Parlane’s report suggested increasing the budget for buying more parkland by either 10 or 20 per cent.

“It’s a little bit disheartening, when I read this thing (parks report),” Councillor Luke Stack said. “(It’s saying), now that you’ve made these big bold moves, by the way, it’s nowhere near what you need if you want to build the vision. As you try to price out the vision, reality brings us back to earth.”

While no dollar figures were attached to the report for increasing the budget, most council members objected to any increase after what has already been done, saying the community’s willingness to pay more for parks is “stretched.”

But Mayor Colin Basran offered a slightly different perspective, noting that places like Knox Mountain Park are already “oversubscribed” at times.

“Initially yes, when I did read this (report) it was definitely sobering, to say the least,” Basran said. “But I also think that there’s a tremendous opportunity for us here for our community, especially with the great staff that we have, to set ourselves apart through these alternative potential policies.”

Parlane told council there were other options than just putting more money into buying expensive downtown land for parks. Those include things like rooftop parks on parkades or the Innovation Centre, closing roads or laneways either temporarily or permanently for park space or even pop-up parks in spaces as small as a parking space.

“I’m excited about what we can look at with possible alternatives,” Basran said.

The cost of increasing the budget to buy park land will go to council next week.

Earlier in the meeting, council was told that 64 per cent of people who took an online survey would be willing to increase taxes by about 17 per cent to improve transportation in the city.

Options for doing that will be brought to council this spring.

These potential tax increases will be in addition to another planned boost to the infrastructure tax of about two per cent along with regular cost increases.

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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