The week came to an end without any insights about the identity of the man or woman allegedly willing to ante up $2.3 million to turn seven city-owned properties on Cedar Avenue into a park.
It reduced the possibility that the white knight gesture can be taken seriously by city politicians who vote Monday on the site’s fate, but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the citizen group that launched Party for the Park and told the public there was a donor waiting in the wings. In an attempt to go sway political will in its favour, it launched an online campaign.
“It’s now up to you. All we need is 30 minutes of your time (Saturday April 16) at 2 p.m. on the beach at the foot of Cedar Avenue,” said Michael Neill, owner of Mosaic Books and an area resident, along with other forces behind People For the Park
“If you don’t care what happens to the park for one reason or another, that’s fine. But, if you are concerned, you simply must find a means to be there at 2 p.m. sharp.”
Numerous other Kelowna residents also continued with their own attempts to explain why the park was simply the only option for the waterfront neighbourhood.
Among their ranks was Witmar developer Albert Weisstock, who owns numerous lots near the proposed development, and who said he intends to show up at the party.
“Witmar Holdings is an aggressive developer, but in no stretch of our imagination would we propose a massing of this size,” he said. “Any developer views themselves as a community citizen, and would always think of community benefit.”
In the case of Cedar Avenue, Witmar said the benefit is minimal. Worse, he said, the city’s decision to sell half the land to a developer marks a change in operations that could undercut the business community.
He said Witmar has been amassing properties in the area for the last decade, and until recently it was doing so with the city’s blessing.
“The City of Kelowna owns 11 waterfront lots, seven north of Cedar Avenue and four lots south of Cedar. The addresses of the four lots south of Cedar Avenue are 3090, 3096, 3098, and 252 Meikle Avenue. No problem here, these lots have been owned by the city for decades,” he said. “More recently the city purchases 377 Meikle Avenue, on the corner adjacent to 387 Meikle, which is owned by Witmar, and is just one of many houses on that side of the street owned by either Witmar or the Weisstock family.”
The company assumed the city bought the lot to facilitate the realignment of the waterfront corridor, which is slated for some time in the future. But then the city then bought 3076 Meikle Avenue.
“This purchase is directly in the middle of three residences that Witmar owns: 399 Cedar Avenue, 3082 and 370 Meikle Avenue,” he said.
The Weisstocks then called another meeting with city staff, offering up a land trade that could help move the road realignment project along. That’s when they learned the city wasn’t aiming for a road realignment, their aim was land assembly in the Cedar Walnut Meikle Avenues area for the purpose of reselling it to developers for a hotel.
This revelation, he said, came as a shock.
“I’m used to competing, it’s a natural thing in business, but not when they take the money out of my pocket to compete,” he said. “Competition is healthy, not this kind though.”
Weisstock made the case to city councillors at a marathon public hearing two weeks ago, and he intended to tell anyone who made their way to the Party for the Park as well.
At that public hearing, 43 people weighed in on the issue at a meeting that went until just before 1 a.m.
Four were in favour of selling off half the land to a developer to fund a boardwalk, small park and riparian area, while 39 thought the 2 1/2- to four-storey development would be a detriment to the neighbourhood.
Council will put an end to the issue one way or another, when it votes on it Monday.