Rough ride ahead for West Kelowna civic centre

The Sept. 17 referendum will ask residents to approve the borrowing of $7.7 million for the city hall project, down from $10.5 million.

West Kelowna civic centre artist's rendering.

The man who led the successful campaign to defeat West Kelowna’s attempt to have a new $14-million city hall built without direct voter approval, says he’s happy to see city council decide to hold a referendum on the issue.

Ian Graham said the referendum—slated for Sept. 17—should the B.C.’s community minister approve it, is a good first step.

But Graham said he still has concerns about council’s plans, the main one being that he feels council did not adequately consider other locations for the proposed building other than the chosen site on Elliott Road in Westbank.

The city’s plan calls for a the new, city-owned city hall to be part of a larger private development of commercial buildings and a civic square. One of the private buildings would house all West Kelowna Interior Health operations and services.

The referendum would ask residents to approve the borrowing of $7.7 million for the city hall project, down from the original plan to borrow $10.5 million.

Earlier this year, the attempt by the city to use the controversial alternate approval process was defeated when Graham and the group he led gathered more than the 10 per cent of eligible voters’ signatures needed to stop it.

The AAP puts the onus on opponents to gather the required number of signatures in a 30-day period to force a municipality to rethink its plans.

Mayor Doug Findlater, who was opposed to using the AAP and had voted against using it, said he felt people signed up for various reasons, not just because of opposition to having a new city hall.

Graham agreed.

“There were probably five or six reasons people voted against (through the AAP),” he said.

But he said he will wait to see what B.C. Community Minister Peter Fassbender says about the planned referendum before making his mind up about what to do next.

He did, however, criticize some West Kelowna councillors for saying the city could pay off the cost of the new city hall within five years. “There’s not a hope in hell that will happen.”

Graham said council also did not make clear how long it will take to pay back the money the city will take from its reserves to add to the borrowing to pay for the new city hall.

Both supporters and opponents of the city hall plan feel that the other side has been less than totally honest in their arguments.

While Graham expressed concerns about the payoff in five years claim, Findlater in supporting the move to a referendum, said he hoped that those taking part will “tell the truth” as they try to make their case.

As for the location of the proposed new hall, Graham said there are other sites that could and should be considered, including building a three-storey city hall with parking under it on the existing parking lot of the Mt. Boucherie Recreation Complex where the current city offices are now located. Another possibility, he feels, could be land the city owns in Westbank on Brown Road. But he said the city is “locked in” with the private developer of the Elliot Road site.

The city has said the new city hall, along with the private development, will help economically revitalize the Westbank town centre by adding more people and more of a civic focus to the area and that’s why that site was chosen.

 

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