Plans to build Kelowna further into the sky thwarted

Plans to build dual high-rises in Kelowna's downtown were quashed Tuesday night, when city council unanimously rejected the current vision of the Monaco.

The project, which contentiously set two towers of 22- and 26 storeys on the corner of Doyle Avenue and St. Paul Street, was too much of a departure from the recently adopted downtown plan, said councillors.

Breaking from that document with such a significantly sized development, they said, would send the wrong message to the community and developers.

The decision was something councillors claimed they wrestled with over the course of a six hour meeting, where they listened to the Keith Funk of NewTown Planning Services speak on behalf of the developer, as well as project proponents and opponents kick in their two cents.

Of the 100 or so area residents who attended the meeting, 24 took to the microphone, with 14 offering opposition and 10 putting forth their support.

Early to speak in favour of the project was Jordon Finn, who introduced herself as someone who was born, raised, and now finishing off an undergrad degree in Kelowna.

"My only option is to move, not because of a lack of jobs, but because of a (affordable housing,)" she told councillors in her comments supporting the project.

Citing recent a recent study from Demographia, which pits the cost of living against median incomes, she pointed out that Kelowna was one of the least affordable places to live in the world — a standard that's detrimental to the city on a whole, she said.

"Approval of this is imperative for a sustainable city," she said.

The structure would also create a more lively environment in the city's core, said Sophia Crescenzo, a downtown business owner.

"Downtown Kelowna is at a standstill," she said, noting that lack of growth is fuelling the economies of nearby cities like West Kelowna, where she believes people are moving toward for investment opportunities.

"I feel Kelowna has stopped in time … this town is boring, please give the community a boost before we all leave. Why are we trying to halt a good thing?"

Detractors of the project  weren't swayed by that argument, and focussed their attention on the way the sheer size of the buildings  showed a blatant disregard for a document built through community consensus.

Aiden Johansen commended that city document when prefacing her distaste for the Monaco, and noted there's a reason why it set out boundaries. Among them, was to avoid buildings that would create a mass of concrete that took away from the city's overall aesthetic —regardless of the perceived benefits.

"People on Ellis Street could kiss any daylight goodbye," she said.

"The marketing is astute and creative, but tricky."

Monaco developers have offered a number of amenities, such as an art gallery, shared car and bike supplies, artist in residence spaces, rental suites for Kelowna General Hospital patients, green roofs and a bountiful supply of ground level retail spaces. All of those bonuses were underscored by the price point, which started in the $250,000 range.

Johansen said that all those perks combined clouded the issue that there  two huge towers would sit only nine meters away from the current highrise of the Madison at ground level. Above the ground they would be 23 meters apart, but the layering would obscure sight lines— a point city staffers earlier made.

"I'm all for development, but I'd like to see it be the right size," she said.

While Tuesday's community input helped inform politicians in their decision making process,  a raft of correspondence was also delivered to city hall.

Before the meeting council read through 105 letters and 196 names entered into an on-line petition in opposition of the project.

In support, the project earned 81 letters and a 1,072 signatures in a petition.

Although the developer chose not to speak after the meeting, they said during a Wednesday morning interview that they weren't sure if moving forward with anything on that space would be possible in the near future.

More to come in the print edition of the Capital News.


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