The last Kelowna council may have been criticized by some members of its successor council for what they considered a lack of achievement, but on Monday the newcomers admitted its predecessor got something right—a plan dealing with building heights downtown.
The new council wants the public to know it supports the old council’s policy regarding building heights.
Following a session with city planners Monday morning to be brought up to speed on the policy—which could see council approve plans for highrise towers of up to 26 storeys in some parts of the downtown core—the new city council, including Mayor Walter Gray, expressed their support for the policy.
The policy, which proved controversial last year when it was being crafted, was adopted in November and is now part of the city’s official community plan.
It designates areas where buildings of various heights could be built, if council allows.
In some cases, such as along the east side of Ellis Street and south of Lawrence Avenue and east of the lane behind Abbott Street, council could allow buildings as tall as 26 storeys if it feels the required separation from other tall buildings will be achieved.
“Height is a privilege but it must be part of a suitable fit and there must be a community benefit,” planning manager Signe Bagh told council.
She said in considering any highrise proposal, the city will look at three key aspects—is it designed well, is it spaced appropriately from other buildings and does it provide a community benefit?
For city staff, the spacing will be just as important as the proposed height.
That’s because the public has made it clear it does not want to see a concrete curtain across the downtown core that blocks views of the lake, said Bagh.
The policy, which is part of the city’s larger new Downtown Plan, was the first part of the plan to be completed.
Next Monday, city planners will present a draft of the new Downtown Plan to council and ask for permission to hold a final consultation session before the plan back to council for adoption in either late February of early March.
Coun. Robert Hobson, one of three returnees from the last council, said he felt it was important the new council go on record as supporting the building heights policy, given its importance and the controversy the subject raised in the community last year.
While the policy allows council to vary the current maximum height of 44 metres (12 to 14 storeys) for buildings downtown, it leaves the decision to council but sets maximums.
It also requires tall buildings to be spaced between 30 metres and 36 metres away from one another in order to maintain view corridors.
Coun. Andre Blanleil, another holdover from the council that initiated the policy, said the spacing requirements will mean the first developers to propose tall buildings downtown will get the better locations.
“And that’s a good thing,” sad Blanleil, who called the policy a “good compromise.”
Several of the new councillors also praised the policy.
Coun. Colin Basran said he really liked the process that helped craft the policy while Coun. Gail Given said she strongly supported it.
Kelowna currently has only two buildings with more than 20 floors downtown—Skye, a 26-storey tower and Discovery Pointe, a 21-storey building.
Both are located north of Prospera Place on Sunset Drive. There are also two towers with 17 floors in the area, one with 16, one with 15, two with 12 and one with 11 floors.
The city estimates the downtown population will rise to just under 16,000 residents by 2029, up from the current population of 11,000. Based on those projections, city staff expect three highrise residential buildings will be built downtown per decade over the next 30 years.
But Bagh said permission for several others could be applied for by developers during that time.
Currently, there is a 26-storey tower planned for Bernard Avenue between Pandosy and Ellis Streets. While the building, to be called 24, is located in an area the policy has designated for buildings no higher than six storeys, city staff point out its plans were in stream when the new policy was approved.
Another proposal, which would include two towers—one 22 storeys high and the other 26 storeys—is being proposed for the corner of Doyle Avenue and St. Paul Street.
The Monaco would back onto the existing, but lower, Madison tower across a lane.
Because of the required separation and the fact two towers are being proposed for the site, Blanleil said the developer will face a challenge to make it all fit.
City planning general manager Jim Patterson said a third tower, this one a proposed 21 storeys, is also being eyed for a site kitty corner to Prospera Place, at Clement Avenue and Sunset Drive.