To the editor:
A sad thing happened in Kelowna on April 8.
Mayor Walter Gray and Kelowna city council voted to rezone Hiawatha Mobile Home Park, allowing Westcorp Developers to build their oversized apartment complex.
While this is a tragedy for the remaining owners in the park, the decision raises questions about our current city government.
In 2007, Hiawatha owners expressed concern about this development to the city.
Former mayor Sharon Shepherd wrote a letter summarizing city policy 229: “The City has a clear policy…that outlines several measures that must be taken before a rezoning would be approved, including significant notification to affected residents of any applications. In short, the city and council has an interest in ensuring the rights of residents of mobile homes are protected (and) the residents don’t find themselves unduly displaced as a result of redevelopment.”
Without this policy, mobile home owners have few rights. This policy states that any rezoning of existing mobile home parks where older homes are located will not be considered for rezoning until a viable relocation plan for affected units is in place. The policy protects people displaced by redevelopment.
Under the leadership of Mayor Gray, we can say the city and council do not have an interest in the rights of residents or in policy 229.
According to the mayor, and echoed by council, the concerns of Hiawatha owners are “landlord-tenant issues” and not part of the rezoning issue. The human factor cannot be considered.
Policy 229 was adopted 20 years ago. It made Kelowna the first city in B.C. to introduce legislation for mobile home owners affected by development. Mayor Gray and council turned their backs on this policy and the people it protects.
On April 24, 2012, a Hiawatha committee met with Mayor Gray to discuss this policy, and to discuss their concerns about Westcorp developers.
He was unaware of policy 229, so we informed him that other cities in the valley have adopted this policy and rules that ensure developers deal with owners fairly.
They require that owners’ individual needs are considered as they offer relocation options.
We gave Mayor Gray copies of the city’s policy and those of other cities. Hiawatha owners asked him to determine how Kelowna would implement policy 229 and get back to us. He agreed.
Two months passed without a word. When we saw him again on June 22, 2012, it was clear he hadn’t spoken to council but had met with Westcorp’s Gail Temple.
He did not remember the policy or our discussions around it. We asked him again to discuss policy 229 with council and explain how the city would implement it. Once again he agreed.
As of last month, at least one councillor knew nothing about the policy and the protection it offered.
At the public hearing March 26, we reminded Mayor Gray and council of policy 229 and the fact Westcorp had not communicated with residents in more than four years.
In that time, frightened seniors had sold and left the park with less compensation than they felt they deserved. Westcorp hadn’t “relocated” them, but dictated financial terms without negotiation.
A report to city council on April 3 suggested the objectives of policy 229 were satisfied—even though owners weren’t dealt with fairly, they hadn’t been relocated and the four relocation options were not viable.
By disregarding the human factor, our mayor and council have made a bold statement—people in Kelowna don’t matter, development does.
A developer’s integrity doesn’t matter as long as they erect new buildings. And city policies aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.
Hiawatha owners have lodged a complaint against the city with the B.C. Ombudsman. They are seeking pro-bono legal help to ensure their rights are upheld.
Unless we want to change our city name to “Westcorp Kelowna,” citizens should be concerned about City Hall’s priorities.
Sandy Campbell, leader of the
mobile home owners