City of Kelowna                                Modular design for temporary social housing facility planned for vacant lot on Commerce Avenue in Kelowna.

City of Kelowna Modular design for temporary social housing facility planned for vacant lot on Commerce Avenue in Kelowna.

Residents still have concerns over Kelowna social housing project

How will this new 46-unit temporary social housing project mix in with the businesses on Commerce Avenue?

Commerce Avenue has become a testing ground in Kelowna, as the city attempts to absorb a social housing project into an existing neighbourhood.

City council signed-off Monday on a BC Housing proposal for a vacant lot on Commerce, a short business oriented street that connects Enterprise Avenue to Highway 97.

The plan calls for a temporary 46-unit supportive housing facility for the homeless. The lease on the property is for four years with an option for a further three-year extension.

Support services located on the ground floor will include a 44-seat dining facility, medical services room, commercial kitchen, lounge, washrooms, laundry and offices.

Outside of the three-storey building, a gathering area will provide recreational space for residents while a secure storage area will be included for personal possessions and bicycles.

READ MORE: PROJECT REDESIGNED

The property will be surrounded by a fence and a video surveillance system will monitor access to and from the facility. There will also be a dog run in the rear of the property, adjacent to the neighbouring Kelowna Audi dealership.

It’s a far cry from the initial proposal presented to area business owners earlier this year. It called for work camp trailers to be located on the property, and the community raised their concerns and swayed council from moving forward.

Mayor Colin Basran said the new version is a huge improvement.

“But there is a lot riding on this application as it needs to mix into the existing neighbourhood in a seamless fashion,” he said.

“All eyes are on us with this because if this isn’t working…it will be challenge to get other neighbourhoods to go along. I don’t want to put pressure on anyone but we need to make sure this works or it will be an uphill battle for future similar projects.”

Coun. Brad Sieben was the lone voice of doubt about the project going forward, saying he thinks some of the business neighbours on Commerce share his sentiments.

“It conforms to the building restrictions now, so what more can I say?” said Frank Kaminsky, a property owner on Commerce. “I think the biggest thing was ensuring we won’t have a bunch of Atco trailers sitting on the site, which is what was originally proposed.”

Gerald Goertsen, regional sales manager for Canada Loyal Financial services who has an office overlooking the property, said he is optimistic the facility will meet a need for homeless housing, but pessimistic about the mark it will have on the street.

“We already have problems with homeless people now going into our garbage containers and we call the RCMP to deal with that,” Goertsen said. “It would makes more sense to have something like this closer to the RCMP. There are not really any services in our area that will assist people like the Kelowna Gospel Mission provides downtown.

“It is portrayed as quite a nice building but hopefully there will be rules that are followed so people aren’t hanging around on the street outside of it or people dealing drugs.”

He added he hopes the dog run feature won’t create a noise factor with constantly barking canines.

“If you have lived next to a dog hotel or facility like that, you know when a bunch of dogs not all trained that are put together, the barking can be constant.”

Coun. Luke Stack disagreed with Sieben’s assessment of the project at Monday’s council meeting, calling it very appropriate for the location.

“The original proposal had the look of a trailer park, but looking at this revised proposal has the appearance of a small office building not much different from any other building of that type up and down Highway 97,” Stack said.

“It has good fencing, landscaping and I think fits in perfectly with the surrounding area. I would have no problem approving this as a commercial use building project.”