As both sides gear up for the anticipated public hearing on the proposed new visitors centre for downtown Kelowna next week, accusations of councillor conflict are once again being tossed around.
But according to the city, the provincial government has directly addressed the issue with a regulation in the Community Charter that specifically says a councillor appointed to a board as its representative does not have a conflict as a result of that appointment.
In several letters sent to the city, as well as the Capital News (see letters), residents have said Kelowna’s current representative on Tourism Kelowna’s board (Gail Given), as well as others with ties to Tourism Kelowna, are in a conflict of interest as the city attempts to rezone what is now a parking lot and boat launch.
A public hearing will be held Jan. 24 and it has sparked a lot of debate in the community.
One letter-writer quoted section 101 of the Community Charter that says if a council member has a direct or indirect pecuniary interest in amatter that comes before council for discussion or vote, the member must declare it and state in general terms the reason why he or she should not participate in the discussion or vote.
But City Clerk Stephen Fleming said what opponents do not realize is section 104 of the charter allows the provincial cabinet to make regulations to it. Provincial cabinet did that a number of years ago, specifically addressing the issue of council-appointed representativeson board, said Fleming. The government says such appointees are not in conflict simply because they are appointed to represent the city.
“There is no conflict. The province has said there is no conflict,” said Fleming.
Heading into the public hearing, which is expected to be filled with people arguing both sides of the issue, Fleming said the city has received a total of 196 letters from both opponents and proponents of the new visitor centre plan.
As of Thursday, he said he did not have a breakdown of how many were in support and how many were opposed, but said those figures would be available by the time the public hearing starts on Tuesday night.
At stake is the plan to build the new one-storey, vaulted-ceiling visitor centre at the foot of Queensway to replace the existing, smaller tourist information centre on Harvey Avenue.
Proponents argue the visitor centre should be where the people are —especially those visiting from out of town who will be in the area ofthe city’s most popular tourist spot, the downtown lakeshore.
Opponents say the location, between City Park and Kerry Park, is wrong for a number of reasons including their belief the centre should remain where vehicle traffic can easily access it and their opposition to seeing it in such a prominent position on the downtown lakeshore.
Complaints about possible blocking of lake views have been countered by proponents pointing to the extensive use of glass in the designto help give parts of the building “see through” effect.
The rezoning application, if successful, would change the land designation for the property the centre would be built on from parks and open space to institutional, similar to the designation of the land under Kelowna city hall.
Meanwhile, the city has released information about the proposed lease agreement between it and Tourism Kelowna. Council will consider the lease agreement at the regular council meeting scheduled for after the public hearing Tuesday if the rezoning is supported.
The lease would be for 29 years at a nominal rate with no renewal clause for a plot 330 square-metres in size. The building on it cannot be more than 7.5 metres in height height and must be maintained by Tourism Kelowna. The building is not to encroach on the nearby Sawmill Community Trust (also known as the Simpson Covenant) lands and the land and building used will revert back to the city at the end of lease period.
A report to council on the lease agreement says the city has committed to pay $11,000 to prepare the site with public utilities such as water and sanitary sewer, while Kelowna Tourism will pay for private utilities, such as electricity.