Council quibbles over 19-storey downtown building height limit

The plan dedicated to developing Kelowna with a coherent vision was all but reduced to one familiar refrain Monday afternoon—how high, is high enough in the downtown?

As they took their final whack at the Official Community Plan, Kelowna politicians focused on the 19-storey limit to downtown building heights in what Coun. Charlie Hodge characterized as a rehashing of the issues specific to the late and often lambasted, CD 21 zone.

“I won’t support OCP today, because of height,” said Coun. Andre Blanleil, sparking the flood of comments both against and in favour of the plan.

“I supported CD 21 and that vision of what downtown could be. What we have here makes that vision impossible…There’s a lot of work I do support, but one (issue) was completely missed.”

Coun. Kevin Craig said he believed the height limit should be bolstered to 26 storeys, as it was the only economically viable way forward.

“I agree with the overall vision; we want to create urban centres where people can live work and play, and rely less on automobiles and higher building heights create that,” he said.  “In some areas, 18 storeys is the magic number, but land costs downtown are actually higher, and to achieve the mixed-use, higher density we need downtown we’ll need taller buildings to make that happen.”

If the city sets a 19-storey limit, he said, staff will have to bring applications for higher buildings forward with a negative bent. And that, he continued, is not the right starting point for buildings that have to be a catalyst for development in the city.

Coun. Luke Stack and Graeme James took a similar tack. Couns. Hodge, Angela Rule, Michele Rule, Robert Hobson and Mayor Sharon Shepherd, however, said tossing out the plan because of one issue that’s ultimately fluid, would be disrespectful to the public process.

And, Hodge pointed out, stalling could reflect poorly on council’s decision-making capability.

The current lot of politicians, Hodge said, have been characterized as a “council that doesn’t move forward and get things done” and killing the plan in the 11th hour would prove them right.

“We could stand here and say I don’t like this so I’m not going to pass the OCP,” he said.

“We had a debate called the CD 21 and a decision was made. We have a downtown plan coming out and part of that is hammering out technical issues.”

Amendments can be made to the plan, and they’re actually quite likely given the fact that a downtown plan is around the corner.

While building height was the issue that dominated debate, the plan addressed governing development of housing, transportation, infrastructure, parks, economic development and the natural and social environment over the next 20 years.

One of the key factors in devising the plan was addressing future population need. By city planners’ estimates, Kelowna will need an additional 8,565 single family units and 11,919 multi-family units over the lifespan of the plan.

Around 50 per cent of new development and 80 per cent of new multiple family residential developments will be concentrated within urban hubs within the city, such as Rutland, South Pandosy, midtown and the Landmark Towers area, North Glenmore and the downtown. The plan was passed Monday with several amendments, but not an extension to downtown building heights.


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