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Kelowna News

Why growth, housing has Kelowna councillors divided

Just over a month after being sworn in for his second term, Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran was a key player as his council reversed itself on growth scenarios

KELOWNA - It’s easy to dismiss the surface camaraderie of Kelowna council as a sign of uniformity and conformity.

But, a month after being sworn into office as a “new” council, a serious split surfaced at the Monday, Dec. 10 council meeting over the future of Kelowna’s growth.

It’s not that the “old” council was unanimous in all its decisions, but they were fairly united in their approach to dealing with an expected 50,000 more residents by 2040.

They promoted densification during an election campaign that saw all eight incumbents easily re-elected, including Mayor Colin Basran. Loyal Wooldridge is the only new councillor, replacing Tracy Gray who did not run.

As recently as Sept. 17, before the election, they seemed unanimous in supporting the same growth strategy.

That changed earlier this week when they split 5-4 on which strategy to actually adopt.

The diifference boils down to deciding whether 75 per cent of new residents should, essentially, live in condos in more densely populated parts of the city versus 80 per cent.

“On Sept. 17, I voted for (75 per cent),” Coun. Ryan Donn told council yesterday. “Then you go through an election and a lot of people are talking and you go through public engagement. I personally opt for (80 per cent).”

And that went for the majority of council.

As is usual with this council, everyone had to have their say on the issue. No one got angry or argumentative. But there are some clear differences in viewpoints and the final outcome may drive up the price of single-family homes and force people to buy lower-priced houses in Lake Country or West Kelowna.

“I know there is a lot of angst that we’ve gone from (75 to 80 per cent) from a few community members.” Coun. Gail Given said in arguing for more single-family homes. “I wouldn’t say a large number of community members, but we are seeing some feedback from those folks who want to be very progressive.

“I get concerned if we’ve sent a long message for a long period of time of what’s in our OCP (Official Community Plan), for the last 10 years of where we expect our growth to be. We have shifted. If we don’t provide sufficient land for single-family homes, we will force people out.”

On the surface, the differences don’t look that big.

In 2017 the city started the Imagine Kelowna process to get public input into how they wanted the city to grow. That was narrowed down earlier this year to four options that ranged from 60 per cent of new housing to be multi-family all the way up to 90 per cent.

In September, staff presented an 75 per cent option. Council didn’t vote on that version of the plan at the time but the consensus seemed to be that they all endorsed it.

Earlier this week, council opted for 80 per cent. That's not a big percentage difference but, when dealing with an estimated 30,000 new housing units, that shift amounts to 1,500 single-family homes not being built.

For Basran, it was the words of a young girl that enticed him to opt for higher density.

“When we started this Imagine Kelowna initiative we had a young girl speak to us about the future city we were building for her,” Basran told council “She said, ‘I want you to keep in mind, the decisions you make will impact me and those coming after me in terms of the type of community you are building today’.”

For Coun. Charlie Hodge, it was the pressure sprawl put on green spaces and agricultural land that swayed him towards higher density. Plus, he said, he had bought into the mayor’s ongoing support for concentrating growth in higher density urban centres.

For Councillors Ryan Donn, Mohini Singh and Loyal Wooldridge, it also came down to things like finances, since it’s cheaper to service new growth in the city centres, and transit that is only viable in higher density areas.

For those opting for more single-family homes - Councillors Given, Luke Stack, Maxine DeHart and Brad Sieben, it was more about not moving too far too fast and providing enough land to encourage people to live in Kelowna rather than move to neighbouring communities.

“The public, with their decisions and their buying preferences, will give us feedback with boots on the ground,” Stack noted.

Next up for this council is provisional budget discussions on Thursday, Dec. 13, where there will be plenty of opportunity to see if there are further divides and, if so, whether there are two factions growing on council or whether allegiances will shift from issue to issue.

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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