Kelowna residents may have thought a downtown redevelopment plan that sparked widespread debate was dead and gone, but at least two candidates running for mayor have a “resurrection” in mind.
During the Urban Development Institute’s Thursday candidate forum, both past mayor Walter Gray and fellow candidate Ken Chung said they’ll revisit the CD21 zone if they are elected.
“New faces can look at it and say, ‘Does this thing deserve to be buried, or should it be resurrected?’” said Gray, pointing out that he believes millions of dollars and several years of planning were “poured down the drain” by the current council’s dithering.
Chung said he thought the plan had merit. If elected, he’ll encourage “everyone to put it back on the table and find a way to make a version of it happen.”
Mayor candidate Cal Condy didn’t say what he’d do with the plan for four blocks of downtown moving forward, but noted he would have worked harder to make sure the issue was dealt with more swiftly the first time around.
In response to criticisms of the current administration’s handing of the CD21 zone, Mayor Sharon Shepherd said the city has moved beyond that episode and are focusing on Bernard Avenue’s revitalization and a more all-encompassing downtown plan.
“We’re moving forward,” she said, admitting that the timing of the CD21 process was less-than ideal, although the results were reflective of public will.
An election happened after the rezoning plan had gone to a public hearing, which means councillors were forbidden for speaking about the matter.
Some candidates in that election, however, were elected “based on their stance on CD21.”
That said, Shepherd was one of those who voted against the highly controversial project once it was returned to the political arena.
It’s one of several decisions that helped her develop the “anti-development” image she battled at the forum organized by the development industry’s lobbyists.
Another, according to one of the questions lobbed her way, was a campaign promise six years ago to not take dollars from developers.
“My husband is probably the biggest supporter of my campaign financially,” she said, explaining that she won’t take funds from any group that she’ll one-day have to make a decision about, for the sake of fairness.
Conversely, Walter Gray was asked to battle back the impression that he was in the pockets of developers.
“Absolute garbage,” he said.
Politicians and developers seem to have developed a “them and us” relationship and that’s far from ideal, he said.
Building permits, he said, accounted for 5,700 construction jobs and 4,900 jobs in the development industry, for 2011 alone.
“You are what drives the economy of the community,” he said, pointing out that they should be very engaged in the political process.
“You have a responsibility to make decisions when it comes to the make-up of city council.”
Much of the debate focused on Gray and Shepherd, who have been widely acknowledged as the frontrunners in the race, but each candidate was given the option to state their case.
Kim Ouellette, was only available for the opening remarks due to illness, and in that time said she’d be focused on affordable housing, expanding the business sector and moving forward more multi-use development permits.
Condy said that all routes to a healthy community lead back to a strong transit system.
Without that, he said, developers will be out of luck when it comes to selling their products.
Chung said he’d like to work on revitalization plans for all business sectors of various areas of Kelowna, not just the downtown, and explore opportunities for further public private partnerships.