Future of Kelowna’s North End has never looked better

Wineries, cideries and breweries—oh my! A series of exciting developments are changing the city's north end.

On the outskirts of downtown, Kelowna’s north end stands as a reminder of this city’s humble roots.

Part industrial, part agricultural and entirely dusty, it bears few markings of a community now known for making the most of geographical riches, largely because developers have taken a hands-off approach.

That calm, however, has come to an end—although it’s not your traditional Kelowna high-rise developer stirring things up.

Those headed to the North End are focusing instead on bottling them up.

Sandhill Wines, the only urban winery in Kelowna, unveiled its high-end, new digs on Richter Street last year to much fanfare, setting the tone for those who would follow.

That, thus far, has included BC Tree Fruits much anticipated craft cidery, which is set to open on Vaughn Avenue next month, and Starkhund Brewery, a 60,000 sq.ft. brew-pub facility expected to see construction start on a corner of the BC Tree Fruits packinghouse lot by late spring.

A deal to sell the packinghouse building itself is underway and expected to close by Monday—roughly a year after its initially anticipated sale date—and that could bring with it a market. Whether it will still be of the size, style and scope of what was pitched as Urban Square by developer Gary Tebutt last year remains to be seen, as he’s apparently stepped away from the project and the current proponents have shied away from the spotlight, thus far.

As all those components fall into place, the character and appearance of the entire neighbourhood will change and that’s something the City of Kelowna is taking an interest in.

“From a planning perspective, my (city hall) counterpart is looking at a north end planning strategy for the next 18 to 20 months,” said Ryan Smith, the city’s urban planning manager.

The city will be looking at how those drink-making developments interface with the downtown and the surrounding residential areas, and they’ll aim to align the city’s future planning endeavours with that in mind.

It won’t be terribly restrictive, like previous comprehensive downtown plans that  went so far as to set out height, style and size restrictions on a block-by-block basis.

“I don’t think the city has any desire from a planning perspective to create that kind of vision again,” he said. “Organically we are seeing the liquor uses come together, so we will try to focus organically with what is already happening. The other part of that is making sure that, with uses that might not be that compatible, we provide good buffering, if we can.”

What should come as a relief to those who reside in the area or travel it regularly, is that breweries, wineries and cideries have a much less rankling effect on those who live in the area.

“As you get more into more clean industrial, you have less conflict with neighbours, there’s less dust and maybe a bit of a smell from the brewers and wineries,” said Smith.

Michael Daley, the general manager of the BC Tree Fruit cider company, said there’s a lot of excitement building in the neighbourhood, and it’s all warranted.

“I grew up in Kelowna and I went to high school and grade school here, and it’s great to see the downtown catching on and prospering,” he said. “It presents a natural and exciting opportunity to extend the area from off the lake to the Vaughn Avenue district.”

Daley said that he’s heard there are plans to make the area more accessible to pedestrians, and that could eventually include  walkways, proper lighting and a boardwalk.

All of it will benefit the cidery that sits adjacent to the market store on Vaughn Avenue, which will be open by the end of April. The beverage itself will be launched April 1.

“There will be small viewing area, where you can see the cidery in the background, as well as sales and a tasting bar,” said Daley.

If that’s not enough, each change in the area will bring roadway improvements.

“It will happen in stages, from my understanding,” said Smith.

The intersection in front of the RCMP will be finished when the new building goes in, and then there’s a section in front of Starkhund brewing that will be completed when that building is complete, and then whatever happens with the  packinghouse will also set some changes into motion.

Large scale improvement plans for Clement, however, aren’t on the books for 10 years, so interest from developers is a bit of a bonus for the city.