FEATURE WEDNESDAY: Changing the character of Kelowna neighbourhoods

Infill housing is changing the landscape of Kelowna’s downtown residential area

Glen Westbrook recently tore down the home he owned for 20 years in a downtown Kelowna neighbourhood and started building four others in its place.

He is, like dozens of property owners throughout Kelowna, capitalizing on an infill housing program that allows previously single-family home lots to quadruple in capacity.

“We decided to come out of retirement and build it ourselves,” said Westbrook, while taking a break from construction on the Wilson Avenue home. “The market value soared and I have the skills, so we said ‘let’s do it.’”

Each of the units will be 1,400 square feet and come with a roof-top patio, the latter detail makes up for what will be lost in yard-space. The previous single-family home and adjacent carriage house had 1,950 square feet of housing.

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All will be sold individually, and then managed through an ownership strata, like at least half a dozen others on his street, significantly changing the appearance and character of the neighbourhood.

“I was happy when I heard the city would allow for this,” he said. “There’s a lack of housing and it’s a great idea. These are modern and have rooftop decks that are fantastic.”

While there’s a lot of clatter and dust from construction, his neighbours are also mostly in favour of the changes, if not capitalizing on them also.

“Right next door, he’s about ready to demolish and this one across the street is starting in June… Dave, he’s happy to see new growth in the neighbourhood and some of the older structures gone” said Westbrook gesturing to his neighbours’ homes as he explained.

“These places have seen better days and when you look at Cawston, the changes that are happening are fantastic. In the time I’ve been working here … you see so many people using that corridor, biking and running and going to the beach.”

Another woman, who lived a few doors down from Westbrook, was slightly less enthused. She noted that she’s lived in the neighbourhood for 10 years and was pleased when her property value sky-rocketed. What she was less enthused about was how the density from a seemingly non-stop supply of four-plexes and new apartment buildings may change a neighbourhood she loved, let alone living in the middle of a construction zone.

That’s something the city is aware of as well.

James Moore, the City of Kelowna’s long-range policy planning manager, was one of the drivers of the community changing program. He said as time wears on its parametres may have to be tweaked, but its main aim was to increase the residential capacity of downtown Kelowna, and so far it’s working.

The area that the RU7 zoning applies starts around Clement Avenue and extends across Highway 97, with pockets between Sutherland Avenue, Rose Avenue and KLO Road.

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Since it was created in March 2017, there have been 20 home demolitions in the area, 17 development applications and 11 building permits, according to Moore, “It’s a bit on track with what we anticipated … maybe a little bit higher because of the market 2017 to 2018 so we had a bit of a first-year bump,” said Moore, adding somewhere between 10 and 15 permits a year would be a healthy level of growth.

While creating four homes where there once was one is not required — it could be two or three — Moore said that has been the preference of most who have decided to take advantage of the program.

What’s been more remarkable, however, is the format of the properties that have been cremated.

Some use a duplex and two single-family home model, others are fourplexes, and there have been four individual homes squeezed onto one property.

On Cadder, between Ethel and Richter streets, there’s an example of two of these different formats facing one another.

Throughout these neighbourhoods, apartment buildings and other density-rich housing projects are also going in. All of which are aimed at increasing the housing capacity of an ever-growing neighbourhood.

The population of the Central Okanagan grew 8.4 per cent between 2011 and 2016, with 194,882 people now living in the region.

Metropolitan Kelowna was the sixth-fastest-growing region in Canada over the past five years. The growth rate between 2006 and 2011 was almost 11 per cent.

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