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OK no longer good enough for Kelowna developments

Kelowna city councillor Mohini Singh is pictured in this photo from Facebook.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Mohini Singh
January 28, 2019 - 3:00 PM

KELOWNA - Two recent challenges to a builders’ drawings may not yet be a trend, but Kelowna City Council is starting to raise the bar on the type of housing it will approve. Or at the very least, councillors are demanding that developers up their game when they show council what they plan to build.

“OK, is just not good enough,” Coun. Mohini Singh said during a Jan. 21 council meeting after reviewing an application for a 21-unit development in McKinley Landing. “We’ve had so much development in Kelowna, it’s time for us to say, we want the best we can get for our city.”

Those comments came two weeks after council voted to defer another development permit application for 156 townhouses near the UBC Okanagan campus over concerns the drawings presented showed them all looking identical and not very interesting.

Singh is not the only councillor to sound the alarm. Coun. Charlie Hodge echoed Singh’s comments on the McKinley Landing project.

“If we’re going to do something in Kelowna, I expect to have something as close to world class as possible,” Hodge said. “Not putting your best foot forward in your design application and to not necessarily put out the best possible visuals in your presentation, can only make me wonder if I’m not going to get the same potential in the actual product.”

That touches on the two issues that council seems to be focusing on. One is the actual design of multi-family projects. The other is on the quality of the presentations that developers make to council.

This project design in McKinley Landing came close to being rejected by Kelowna City Council as not being good enough.
This project design in McKinley Landing came close to being rejected by Kelowna City Council as not being good enough.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/City of Kelowna

"What we’ll be doing over the next few months is probably working with council to maybe reset the bar a little bit,” Community Planning Department manager Ryan Smith told iNFOnews.ca.

There are basically two public processes developers have to go through to get their projects approved by city council.

The first is to have the proper zoning. Both developments are part of larger projects where a zoning plan was approved some years ago. But before getting permission to build, a development permit is needed.

Loosely phrased, the permit sets the “form and character” of the project – how many units, how many stories, how many parking spaces, what the outside of the buildings will look like, landscaping, etc.

The standards council sets before approving that permit seems to be getting higher.

“In the last term (of council) we were under a ton of pressure to provide rental accommodation and we approved developments to make affordable, attainable rental housing,” Singh told iNFOnews.ca. “When we ask developers to up the façade, the look and feel and all that, that gets passed on the consumer. So we were approving developments, not willy nilly, but if the look and feel was good, we were approving them.”

Times have changed.

“Now we’re at a stage where we’ve got to be careful what we approve because, in twenty years from now, will it wear well?” she said. “All I’m asking for is: can we put some extra thought, extra creativity into improving the look and feel of these projects?”

While it’s a change that will take developers and planners time to adjust to, it is welcomed by Smith.

“Councillors don’t deal with these types of things every day and they’re certainly not experts in the area,” he said. “They’re trying to make the best decisions possible so them asking developers to give us better, really clear images, is a really good thing, I think, because it means they’re taking every approval very seriously.”

There are 90 to 100 guidelines developers have to consider when seeking approvals. Not all apply to each project but the more boxes they tick off, the better their chance of success.

But how those ideas are presented to council is also crucial.

This design for a proposed development on Lakeshore Road was praised by Kelowna City Council.
This design for a proposed development on Lakeshore Road was praised by Kelowna City Council.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/City of Kelowna

“Architectural renderings, the pretty colour pictures that are submitted, they’re all generally computer generated,” Smith said. “When you’re starting to put in trees and that type of thing, it’s always a question of what you show. Developers often get criticized by the neighbours because they put in all the landscaping and the neighbours say that’s not going to look like that for 10 years. So we often have them just show the buildings and the architecture.”

Which triggered one of the complaints about the McKinley Landing project, it showed very little landscaping.

So what the city’s planning department needs to sort out with council is a clear picture of what drawings to present because it can be very expensive to make changes.

“It depends on what’s being changed on drawings,” Smith said. “An architect usually has to be involved in the design of a multi-family building if it’s over six units or a certain size so, the cost of that, it’s hundreds of thousands of dollars. Once that project’s designed to the development permit stage, you’re not just changing the outside of the building. You could be changing bedroom layouts and all these other things that have major impacts on the inside of the building.”

Therefore, it’s better to know what council expects and only go through one design.

“I have to know what it’s going to look like before I vote on it,” Singh said. “If I don’t have confidence on what the end results are going to look like, how can I vote on it?”

Of course, it will take more than pretty drawings to win council approval these days.

“All I’m asking is, let’s not have boxes that are thrown together because they’re easy to do,” Singh said. “Let’s be creative. Let’s put some thought to it. Let’s put some soul to it so that 20 years from now or 30 years from now when I’m six feet under the ground or I’m really old and walking with a stick, I can look around and say, it still looks good.”

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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