Kelowna council approved the first phase of a significant urban redevelopment proposal but has brought a halt to the overall project.
The first phase of the Capri Centre proposal, a 22-storey residential tower at the corner of Sutherland Avenue and Capri Street, was signed off on by council at Monday’s meeting.
Prior to that vote, council spent nearly two hours debating the retail and residential project that will ultimately provide housing for 2,200 people, raising several concerns about public access and commitment to several amenities, most notably an NHL-size outdoor rink.
Those questions were largely unanswered by the project design representative for the Capri property owner, RG Properties.
Leo Mariotto, president of ICR Projects based out of the Lower Mainland, said trying to predict the exact development path for the 20-acre site, which currently houses Capri Mall and the Coast Capri Hotel, is impossible.
“Right now I was here in response to getting approval for phase one of the project and I’m not really in a position to answer your questions,” said Mariotto.
The Kelowna planning department had recommended the revised development master plan be adopted, but council gave considerable pushback to that recommendation, using terms like “confused” and “lacking clarity” to voice their frustrations about understanding changes to the original masterplan submitted in 2016.
The ice rink, which has evolved from a skating pond to NHL size scale, was a focal point of concern—namely who will own it, and when would it take shape in the multi-phased build-out scheme.
Coun. Luke Stack said if the ownership of the rink is a strata ownership arrangement, he can envision within two years where the public will no longer have access to the rink by order of the strata council.
Mariotto could not speak to the ownership issue or guarantee at what point it would be built, saying it is intended to be a focal point of the development that draws people into the site, not just reserved for project strata condo and townhouse owners.
Stack also raised concerns about private vs. public roads within the development; proposed flowpath for bicycle paths around the site; clarification of the park and greenspace commitment; vehicle access to the site, now limited to one main entry point off Gordon Drive; and timing on the various build-out phases coming on stream.
Coun. Brad Sieben said the questions raised by fellow councillors reflect a precise expectation of strictly adhering to a development masterplan, with an anticipated 15 to 20 year build-out, that is unrealistic.
“I think it is difficult to expect a private developer to make time commitments to when amenities will be brought on stream for this when there are already so many balls bouncing in the air,” added Coun. Gail Given.
“This is like putting together a 4-D puzzle. And when you talk about tenants in the mall relocating as this develops proceeds just adds that many more balls in the air.”
Coun. Charlie Hodge said council has a responsibility to the public to seek an expectation for how a development of this scale will proceed—and make sure that vision is followed.
“We have had experiences in the past where that has not been the case,” he said. “Part of the trade-off for approving a higher density development was the public amenities that were to be a part of this.”
Council opted to defer the site master plan adoption—with Sieben, Given and Mayor Colin Basran opposed—but then were placed in the awkward position of approving the first phase of the development as brought forward on the council agenda by the planning department.
The initial project phase is the first of seven similar high-rise towers with a maximum allowed 22-storey building height along with another single 26-storey tower.
“It feels odd doing it this way but I am prepared to approve this as long as the questions we have previously raised are answered before the second phase comes before us,” said Donn.
Coun. Maxine DeHart said council is showing a sign of good faith to the developer by approving the phase one residential component.
“Our message to the developer today has been very, very harsh and I think the applicant got the message. There is a lot more development to come on this project. They know and we know how to proceed forward, ” DeHart said.
Kelowna city planner Terry Barton told council allowing phase one to proceed won’t compromise future response to their concerns about the overall development plan.
“I would say there is a degree of generosity being shown by council to approve this without knowing all the aspects and details council has requested answers for, and approving this will set very specific boundaries for this corner (where the phase one tower is proposed), but it’s also knowing a large remainder of the site where the flexibility to make design changes still exists,” said Barton.
Hodge was the lone councillor to oppose the first phase approval, saying to do so was not consistent with council’s previously voiced concerns about the development.
“We are moving the first phase forward while the rest of the project is somewhat in limbo,” Hodge said.
Stack echoed Hodge’s sentiments, saying his personal preference might have been to delay it until the overall concept issues are addressed.
“But this tower plan is consistent with the existing comprehensive development zone we approved previously and it’s a beautiful building design, so I am willing to approve this on the good faith we will get substantive answers to our other concerns,” Stack said.
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