Kelowna council has approved a 33-storey hotel-condo mixed use development in the city’s downtown core. Photo: Kelowna Capital News files

Economic growth, millenials will change Okanagan landscape

Urban planner says if you think there has been change to this point, you haven’t seen anything yet

Kelowna will be the economic hub behind a changing approach to land use across the Okanagan over the next 20 years, according to a leading B.C. development project planner.

Gary Pooni, president of Brook Pooni, an urban planning and communications firm, says not everyone will like it, but more change is coming as political, technological and lifestyle forces are reshaping the direction of real estate development across the valley.

“It’s not about what is wrong or right, but the reality is you can’t stop all the economic growth that is coming the Okanagan’s way, so you want to be at the forefront of accommodating that change,” he said.

Pooni offered his outlook on land use challenges facing the Okanagan as the keynote speaker at the monthly Urban Development Institute luncheon held in Kelowna on Monday at the Coast Capri Hotel.

Related: Kelowna council approves 33-storey downtown tower

He said technology, real estate prices and how the millennial generation is adapting to those lifestyle changes are impacting the direction of future real estate development.

As of 2017, Pooni pointed out that millennials were the single largest income group in North America, and by 2030 are expected to outnumber baby boomers by 22 million.

Pooni cited the lifestyle habits of millennials as widespread—being hip to the social media world, desire for economic independence, greater value on leisure/recreation time, a higher density lifestyle as opposed to home-ownership and they are less likely to own a vehicle.

“The one thing I would tell anyone planning a condo development is to create a place for an Amazon delivery drop-off site because of the rise in online shopping, which will only increase,” he noted.

Pooni talked about the connectivity of the Okanagan, of how the region needs to think of itself in terms of being a collective large urban metro centre, not a chain of individual communities stretched along Highway 97.

And a key part of that metro-oriented transition will be around public transportation, with likely fewer people driving and people living farther away from their jobs, he stated.

Transit connecting Okanagan communities, such as light rapid transit is an idea that governments need to start talking about, Pooni said, while Uber already poses the potential for short-term significant impact.

“You don’t have Uber yet in the Okanagan but hopefully it will happen soon. It has and will change the idea of how you travel within your community. There are many things that are going to cause disruption to how we live our lives in the years ahead, and Uber is one of them.”

Related: Proposal for city’s tallest building

Pooni said from a land use perspective, fewer vehicles will mean a reduction in gas stations, the need to redevelop parking lots, re-purposing of home garage space and considering different building use functions for parkades.

“Those who deal with it and are at the forefront of change will be the best prepared to benefit when it happens.”

Part of that adaptation, he said, will fall on real estate multi-residential unit developments.

“I remember when I bought my first condo my dad thought I was crazy. Why are you buying airspace rather than a house on a piece of property? But we see now how that has changed. Moving forward, you will see more families living in multi-tenant buildings, living in smaller spaces where that space is better utilized, and having common areas in the building for other lifestyle uses.”

The influence behind that, he noted, is caused by the radical shift in real estate prices over the past 20 years, something that Pooni says has caused land to become a bankable commodity.

“What has happened is the haves and the have-nots have become defined by those who own real estate and those who don’t,” he said. “So affordable housing and how you provide that within the existing land base becomes an issue.”

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