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Heritage and housing availability clash at Kelowna public hearing

Amendments to Official Community Plan to align with housing legislation adopted by council
At a public hearing on May 14, 2024, Kelowna council adopted amendments to the Official Community Plan to align with provincial housing legislation regarding small-scale multi-housing and Transit Oriented Areas (TOA). (Photo Gary Barnes/Capital News)

It was near the end of Tuesday’s (May 14) public hearing when Councillor Ron Cannan unloaded on the provincial government over housing legislation affecting the city’s Heritage Conservation Area (HCA).

“I’m willing to put a stake in the ground and not be bullied by this top-heavy, sledgehammer, controlling provincial government,” he said.

Cannan was referring to a comment made by an area resident earlier in the evening challenging council to stand up to the province.

“I think elected officials need to drive a stake in the ground,” said Gerry Fee.

That was the general feeling in the room with many speakers echoing the call to push back against the province.

“We feel that the citizens have spoken and that they cherish the character of the area and the history that it represents,” said Barry Jessup with Friends and Residents of Abbot Street Heritage Conservation Area Society (FRAHCAS), referring to a 900-signature petition in support of preserving the HCA.

Jessup added that the group wants to work with council and city planners on heritage guidelines and bringing back the heritage advisory committee.

The public hearing was to adopt Official Community Plan (OCP) amendments to align with provincial housing legislation regarding small-scale multi-housing and Transit Oriented Areas (TOA).

Under the new legislation, four and six units can built on single-family lots depending where they are in the city. Staff made an exception for Abbott and Marshall heritage areas by creating a Core Area - Heritage District (C-HER) zoning.

“We applied a special future land use designation to be clear…you can’t build six units here, we’re looking for four,” Robert Miles, long-range planner, told the hearing.

C-HER encourages the preservation of existing homes and mandates that new developments and alterations align with HCA guidelines which will be updated this summer.

The province also designated the area around Kelowna General Hospital (KGH), at the south end of the HCA, a TOA given the hospital is a major employer. Up to six-storey buildings can be built in a TOA, a fact that was not well received by most of the audience.

A voice that resonated with several councillors came from 20-year-old college student Ben Harris.

“Affordability is the biggest issue of my generation,” he said.

Harris also singled out Cannan for a comment he made at council’s May 13 meeting stating that “we are not going to build our way out of this affordability crisis.”

“That spits in the face of the fact this affordability crisis is caused by a lack of housing supply,” Harris said, further arguing that densification should be shared throughout the city.

He urged council to not just consider those lucky enough to afford a home, but also think about young people who can’t, adding that the provincial legislation gives him hope.

“I might be able to afford a home in a neighbourhood that I love and have biked through many times,” Harris said.

Coun. Loyal Wooldridge, also the NDP candidate in Kelowna-Centre for the upcoming provincial election, spoke about collaborating with residents, and all levels of government to provide affordable and available housing.

“Throwing a sledgehammer down and pounding the desk might look good in the headlines, but at the end of the day it’s about working together and accomplishing both levels of government goals.”

Mayor Tom Dyas told the hearing that he has spoken to his counterparts on the BC Urban Mayors’ Caucus about how the legislation will affect heritage areas in their cities.

“It’s our community yes, but it is every other community throughout the province that this affecting.”

Advocacy work is happening, the mayor told the audience.

Council adopted the OCP amendments with Cannan opposed.

READ MORE: Coun. Cannan wants Kelowna’s heritage area exempted from density, development

READ MORE: Massive development proposed for McKinley Beach lands in Kelowna

Gary Barnes

About the Author: Gary Barnes

Journalist and broadcaster for three decades.
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