A UBCO student had a message for a member of a community group opposed to a 25-storey tower on the old Kelowna RCMP site during Tuesday (July 26) night’s council meeting.
“I’ve read about the previous speaker,” said Jackson Higgs. “I believe he’s just trying to protect the view from his luxury condo. Well, 20,000 students call this place home during classes.”
Just before Higgs spoke, Les Bellamy, with Kelowna Legacy Group (KLG), had criticized council for wanting to stick the tower in the middle of several low-rise buildings.
“This drastic insertion will look like a phallic symbol,” argued Bellamy.
The project has an affordable housing component, which was noted as something that is desperately needed by several other UBCO students who spoke in favour of the development.
Bellamy said while he appreciates the support for affordable housing, lakeview properties are not the ones the community desperately needs.
Others who spoke against the tower took council to task over the process it took to get the project where it is now. Many in opposition questioned why the tower was allowed to grow to 25 storeys from 13, which was the original height laid out in the request for proposals from the city.
“The process is unfair to the taxpayers and the development community as well,” said one area resident. “It sends the wrong message to the public.”
KLG has led that charge, calling for the development to be paused or even scrapped. Several councillors acknowledged they could have done better.
“I love the project, but it’s not transparent,” said Coun. Charlie Hodge. “I don’t blame staff, my frustration is with this council. We have lost credibility, we have not kept our word.”
Coun. Mohini Singh said she was shocked by the amount of pushback on the project.
“I think it’s most I’ve had,” she said. “I reached out to developers and the common thread I heard was faith and trust. They said, ‘You’re changing the goal posts.’”
Coun. Loyal Wooldridge said he takes the process seriously but did agonize over this particular project.
“If we go back to square one it will be six years out before anything gets built and we will be missing that affordable housing need,” he added. “I think we are creating an amazing public benefit here.”
Questions were also raised about the legality of the process council undertook.
“Legal opinion was sought,” said Doug Gilchrist, city manager. “We are transparent and above board.”
Mayor Colin Basran spoke about the controversy the development has generated.
“This whole bait-and-switch perpetrated about this project is so factually inaccurate,” he said. “There’s no conspiracy going on, just a fully committed developer.”
Speaking about affordable housing, the project developer Greg Appelt told council 316 units were included in the original tower, but that number dropped to 259 after the redesign.
“It went down as a process of the public consultation in redesigning the building,” he said.
Appelt added that he was excited to get started with the development.
“It’s been a long time coming.”
Council voted 6-2 to rezone the property and allow the tower to move forward.
Hodge and Singh voted to oppose the rezoning approval.