The vagaries of the economy have resulted in significant changes to the downtown Kelowna’s Central Green development, which were approved by city council at Monday’s council meeting.
The changes, requested by project developer Al Stober Construction, include a low-speed service roadway through the Central Green site; addition of 22 parking stalls; higher density moved from along Harvey to the middle of the site; a commercial service oriented plaza including a coffee shop; and removal of the proposed public podium.
Coun. Charlie Hodge spoke out against the changes, saying months have been spent consulting with the public on this project, only to see changes proposed that detract from the original ideals behind the project.
“I find it rather disconcerting that these change come before us now, and the last public meeting about this proposal for public input is tonight,” Hodge said.
He said the roadway, parking stalls and density changes were never part of the original proposal, which was the result of an extensive community collaboration of groups and individuals offering their input into what Central Green should look like.
“I’m happy with 50 per cent of what I see in this plan. What now concerns me is the other 50 per cent,” said Hodge.
Coun. Luke Stack said he understood Hodge’s sentiments about the changes proposed, but he felt the project still delivered on key elements of what was envisioned, in particular the creation of Rowcliffe Park and the mixture of rental and strata housing.
“I see this as a success,” said Stack, who along with Hodge served on the council under former mayor Sharon Shepherd that orchestrated the public input planning process for the development.
“Much of the work the early visionaries had for Central Green is still being accomplished. But it’s one thing to have a vision and another to deliver on it. We have been waiting since 2008 for something to happen on this site.
“Now investors have stepped forward to make this happen, so there will be hundreds of new rental units available with a beautiful new park in an area with its own town centre, greenspace and key point for transit service. For me, I don’t think a little road providing service access to the site is going to be a problem.”
Coun. Gail Given said her concern was about the long-term plan to build two high-rise towers, anywhere from 12 to 24 storeys on site down the road. The original plan had three high-rises proposed for along Harvey Avenue, but Stober Construction indicated recently that high-rises for now weren’t economically feasible for the project.
“I think if we don’t have any kind of higher density on the site beyond four to six storey residential buildings, I think an opportunity to maximize the benefit of the site will be lost,” Given said.
Coun. Brad Sieben said residential development is largely driven by market trends and demands when determining what is and isn’t feasible to build.
“Central Green had a great plan and great public buy-in, but there was no developer buy-in,” he said.
Mayor Colin Basran cited one line from the city staff report on the Central Green changes, which said the guiding principal of Central Green was to create a community in the core of Kelowna that would “set a new standard for development within the city and exemplify sustainable planning and building practices in a economically responsible manner.”
Basran said those sentiments reflected how the original scope for what Central Green would look like created no forward movement on the development.
“That process ended up trying to please everybody, which was a key to it being a failure to generate an economically viable proposal…I appreciate the intentions of those involved in that process, but the property has sat empty for a reason. It was not buildable. Now with these changes we have a developer who is willing to make this work,” Basran said.
Hodge did offer a response to the issue of viable economics dictating the need for changes to the Central Green original conception, saying the reason the property has sat vacant since 2008 was because of Kelowna’s economy “going in the tank,” not because of any limitations to the original concept.
“Not much happened around Kelowna in the years since. In the last year or two, have we started to climb out of that, but we are not there yet. I don’t think the plan is what held this project back, but the economy in general,” Hodge said.
“I appreciate the people who are involved in this development and I have great respect for them, but the vision before us now is not what people fought like crazy and met like crazy for months to see happen.”