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Westcorp development proceeds despite Hiawatha Mobile Home Park displacement

The full build-out of the new Westcorp Properties development plan for the Mission includes 19 buildings, a hotel and plenty of public greenspace - contributed
The full build-out of the new Westcorp Properties development plan for the Mission includes 19 buildings, a hotel and plenty of public greenspace
— image credit: contributed

A contentious development plan for Kelowna's waterfront will proceed, though it displaces residents of the Hiawatha Mobile Home Park and has upset many in the Lower Mission.

On Monday afternoon, Kelowna city council voted six to three to support a plan from Edmonton-based Westcorp Properties Inc., which will see 900 new units built on an 18-acre parcel of land just south of Rotary Beach over the next 10 to 15 years.

"Do I wish some of the negotiations had gone smoother? Yes I do. Do I think that's enough to hold back this proposal? No I don't," said Coun. Luke Stack. His comments opened the discussion with a refrain similar to those who voted to overlook the turmoil the development has caused in order to pursue the hotel, public park space and rental housing the new development heralds.

Westcorp wants to redevelop the parcel with 19 buildings, providing a mix of rental housing and ownership that would include townhouses and apartments, as well as an 11-storey boutique hotel.

The plan calls for an eight-storey apartment building, "stacked" townhouses and 50,000 square feet of commercial space.

The developer has offered four options for residents in the mobile home park to transition out of the affordable waterfront homes they thought they would spend their retirement enjoying.

Westcorp will either relocate a residents' mobile home; purchase the home and pay to demolish it; offer the mobile homeowner a five per cent discount on a new home in the development or offer a rental housing unit in the development at a rate consistent with their current housing costs, with Seniors' Outreach helping facilitate the process.

As one homeowner told councillors at the public hearing, however, none of the options come close to the assessed value of the residents' mobile homes as they were valued prior to Westcorp purchasing the park in 2008.

And the developers' dealings thus didn't sit well with some on council.

Councillors Gail Given, Robert Hobson and Mohini Singh proved the dissenting voices, saying they could not support the scheme because the built-out is a step beyond what the city's planning documents set out and relations with the neighbourhood are so sour.

"I cannot, within myself, support this project the way it is," said Singh. "I would like this developer to please go back and come to a viable settlement with the 18 or 19 (mobile home-owners) who are left."

Westcorp did relocate 80 per cent of the park's tenants; but almost two dozen residents held out.

Mayor Walter Gray offered the flip-side of the argument saying this was the fifth experience he had had with mobile home parks being displaced and that the case should prove a lesson to those who decide to roll the dice and buy a home on property they will lease.

"You have no tenure. You are renting land at the whim of a landlord and your time will come. There's a point at which the landlord can no longer afford to be in the mobile home business," said Gray.

He noted the optics of the entire project would likely have been better if the density had been somewhat lower, but otherwise said he felt the development was the right thing for the right space.

Coun. Andre Blanleil went one further, arguing the development, dense as it is, will produce a vibrant neighbourhood in the next 10 to 15 years that the city needs.

He pointed to the Ambrosi Road neighbourhood, off Springfield Road, as an example of how in-fill developments can add to an area and produce valuable living space that might otherwise go to waste.

"I think this just makes sense. It's the biggest brownfield site that's ever been dealt with since I've been on council and I think it needs to be denser than single houses," he said.

Brownfield land is that which has already been built on. The mayor pointed out the dense in-fill development might, in fact create another city centre, in addition to adding valuable hotel and rental housing in a very livable area.

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