Despite a strong recommendation against the proposal by city staff, Kelowna council has approved a development permit to allow a 33-storey hotel/condo tower on the downtown lakeshore.
The building, to be built by Edmonton-based developer Westcorp, will be 131 metres high, making it the tallest building not only in the city, but between Calgary and the Lower Mainland.
“I think it will be a beacon for the city,” said Coun. Luke Stack. “It’s going to put Kelowna on the map.”
Council voted five to two to approve the development permit, which included a height variance making the tower seven storeys taller than a plan for the hotel previously approved by council.
Only Councillors Ryan Donn and Charlie Hodge opposed approval for the project.
While he praised the building—which will include 174 hotel rooms, 49 condominiums, a conference centre, a restaurant on the 17th floor and commercial space on the ground floor—Hodge said he felt the location at the foot of Queensway downtown was the wrong place for such a tall building.
City staff said in a report to council that they were concerned about the height, the shadows it would cast and the sheer size of the six-storey podium building the tower will sit on.
At a council meeting that went late into the night Tuesday, council was told by Gail Temple, vice-president of Westcorp that changes to the design of the podium building had been made to step it back at the 20 and 23 metre levels to soften its impact at street level.
The hotel is the latest in a string of residential towers to be approved for the downtown area in Kelowna, including a 21-storey building currently under construction on Sunset Drive, the 36 and 29-storey twin-towers of One Water Street next door, and the 20-storey Ella tower on Lawrence Avenue.
But they will all be dwarfed by the hotel, which was redesigned last year after originally being approved by council at 26 stories. (While it will have more storeys, the taller of the two One water Street towers will actually be 12 metres shorter.)
Westcorp said it had to redesign the hotel, and include the condominiums on the upper floors, to make the project financially viable. It also added two floors of underground parking, with the rest of the parking in the podium building.
Th elliptical-shaped tower was supported by 21 of the 25 people who spoke at the council meeting and by 114 of the 120 people who wrote letters to the city about the project.
Most of the supporters called the project a landmark development for the city, one that would become an iconic building in Kelowna.
Mayor Colin Basran, who supported the project despite initial concerns about the size of the podium portion, said he was not concerned about the height.
“I don’t see this as setting a precedent,” said Basran. “This council prides itself on looking at projects on a case-by-case basis.”
He said the city needed a project like the Westcorp hotel and while he feels Kelowna is already on the map, he said he thinks the new building will shine the spotlight on the city “even brighter than before.”
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