West Kelowna city hall borrowing denied through AAP

West Kelowna council will have to decide between holding a referendum on the civic centre project or abandoning it.

Many West Kelowna residents have let their voices be heard, and it isn’t what West Kelowna city council was hoping to hear.

West Kelowna city staff received 3,871 responses against the Alternate Approval Process for the Civic Centre project by the May 3rd deadline, over 1,200 more than the 2,603 needed to defeat it. The proposed project would be located at 3641 Elliot Road, and would be a joint private and public venture. The public portion of the Civic Centre would be a new city hall, funded by the city, with an estimated cost of $14.8 million and a borrowing limit of $10.5 million. The private portion, led by Strategic Development Group, would see the construction of two residential buildings and an office building where Interior Health has agreed to lease space for a consolidated health centre.

The Alternate Approval Process was used as an alternative to holding a referendum, and now that the borrowing of $10.5 million has been defeated, council is faced with one of two options; either hold a referendum or drop the project. Ian Graham led the charge using the  AAP process as the leader of the group West Kelowna Citizens for a Free Vote, and he was thrilled to see it defeated.

“It’s not that the (residents) didn’t want a new City Hall, it was the fact that the city council wanted to use a backdoor, and from our point of view, an un-democratic, Alternate Approval Process to borrow the money rather than do what most of the (residents) wanted, which is a proper and full (residents’) referendum vote at election time,” he said.

“A lot of people were unhappy with this decision, and they come from all over the place. There is no doubt that we need roads and sidewalks and sewer before we need another city hall. We think they were reaching too far to do this transaction, especially when they have other pieces of land that they already own.”

West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater, who supported the Civic Centre project but voted against using the Alternate Approval Process, addressed the outcome of the AAP Thursday.

“I believe that, and certainly the people including Ian Graham and company, said a lot of people are annoyed by the Alternate Approval Process and said it was presumptuous,” Findlater said. “I was not in support of the AAP, but at the end of the day we live with that and go from there. I do believe a lot of people were annoyed by the negative part of the AAP.

“What I’m hearing is they aren’t necessarily against the project but were against the AAP, which gives me hope for the project.”

This wasn’t the first time an AAP has been used to defeat a council motion in the Okanagan, as Lake Country residents used an AAP to stop the District of Lake Country from borrowing $2.6 million to purchase a portion of the CN railway corridor in February. Lake Country later borrowed the money from Kelowna with the promise to pay it back. Despite seeing two AAP’s defeated in the past four months, Findlater noted there is still a time and place for the process.

“We used the AAP once before for a non financial matter in changing from a district to a city and there wasn’t a ripple in doing that, so that was an appropriate use,” he said. “But it’s different in the minds of people when money is involved.”

Council will be addressing where to go with the project at the next council meeting, which is Tuesday, May 10 at 1:30 p.m. At that meeting, council will be presented with a report from city staff outlining their options, and Findlater said he can’t fathom a reason why council wouldn’t make a decision on how to proceed. At an informational session held in April, Findlater said his gut feeling was that council would go ahead with a referendum if the AAP was defeated. On Thursday, he explained the private portion of the proposal would factor into council’s decision on what to do next.

“The private portion plays a factor moving forward, as abandoning it to revisit later could cause the health centre and private portion to disappear,” he said. “That’s one of the great concerns.”

As for whether or not he would again oppose the Civic Centre if it goes to a referendum, Graham stated he doesn’t yet know.

“It’s probably too early to say yes, and it’s certainly too early to say no,” Graham said. “I think we will look and see what it is they want to do, or if they put this in the bag and say let’s look at this again the next time there’s an election. That would be our preference.”

Tuesday’s open meeting is at the council chambers at 2760 Cameron Rd. The report that will be provided to council at that meeting on the options they now have will be available to the public the Friday before as part of the council agenda package, which can be viewed through the City of West Kelowna‘ s website.

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