Meeting the challenges of being the major city in one of Canada’s fastest growing metropolitan areas is no easy job.
But Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran says he believes his city has proven it is up to the task and, in the in the first two years of his council’s current four-year mandate, has made strides in a number of different areas directly affected by growth.
And, the former councillor and first-term mayor says the city does not plan to ease up in the second half of council’s term either.
““Continued growth over this time tells me that, as a city, we are managing to create a place that meets the economic and lifestyle needs that people from diverse backgrounds are looking for,” said Basran after delivering his third State of the City address to the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce Wednesday.
“We are a growing city – and that’s good – but growth and change are not without their challenges.”
Earlier this week Statistics Canada said the metropolitan Kelowna area was the sixth fastest growing metropolitan area in Canada between 2011 and 2016.
In his speech, Basran pointed to many of the ways the city is dealing with some of the adverse consequences of growth—rising house prices, lower vacancy rates, an increase in homelessness and the challenge of stopping urban sprawl.
Calling the hiring the city’s first social issues manager one of the highlights for him of his first two years in the mayor’s chair, Basran pointed to the many partnerships the city has entered into to help deal with issue of homelessness and housing.
A joint effort with the Gospel Mission and B.C. Housing saw the creation of a pilot project to provide safe storage areas at the Mission for people on the street, a move that he said has helped seven people get into transitional housing so far and led a host of others to contact services available to help them.
Other partnerships with B.C. Housing and local groups have resulted in several subsidized housing developments containing more than one thousand units in recent years.
Basran said with the city providing land as it’s contribution to several projects, it can help create much needed housing, especially for those in need.
When it comes to more-affordable housing, more than 1,000 units of rental housing are currently under development in the city and another 1,070 are planned for 2017 and 2018. The city has not seen that level of rental housing built in many years.
The growth—an estimated increase of 8,000 people over the last five years—also provides opportunities for the city, said the mayor, including making public transit more viable, justifying investments in multi-use transportation corridors and helping make the city safer with more people in areas like downtown. And it has prompted a built-up-not-out approach at city hall.
“That is why we want to try and densify some of the neighbourhoods we already have,” he said.
But the first two years of the current council mandate has not been totally smooth sailing. While he did not mention the controversy over council’s recent decision to rezone land on the downtown lakeshore for a new visitors’ centre or earlier protests about the city’s original plan for Cedar Creek Park in the Pandosy area, he did touch on the city’s controversial “sidewalk sleeping ban,” noting only one ticket has been issued as a result of it.
The ban brought hundreds out into the streets to protest in December.
Overall, Basran said the city is doing well, meeting the objectives of the priorities council set early in its mandate and helping the economy grow while keeping property taxes in the bottom third of the municipalities in B.C. with a population over 75,000.