West Kelowna council and city staff held an open house and informational session about the Alternative Approval Process for the city’s proposed civic centre project Wednesday evening.
The civic centre project is a proposal that would see a new public and private development mix on Elliot Street, just off the Highway 97 couplet. The project has a $10.5 million borrowing limit for council, with a maximum budget of $14.8 million, for which reserve funds would be used to over any costs past the $10.5 million borrowing limit. That cost covers the city hall portion of the project, with the developer funding the rest of the private property. The proposed centre would host a new city hall, an Interior Health component, an office building and residential apartments.
Addressing a crowd of over 100 at the Westbank Lions Hall, Mayor Doug Findlater provided background on the project and answered questions posed by the public. One of the first questions asked was how council would prevent the developer from backing out part way through, and only building one of the two buildings in the Civic Centre plan. Findlater deferred to Chief Administrative Officer Jim Zaffino, who responded to the question.
“One of the controls is a secure bond that is part of the contract,” Zaffino said. “The contract also states that the two buildings are built concurrently so that it isn’t city hall first and then the office building, but rather city hall and the office building.”
The new city hall would have over 32,000 square feet available to staff, which is roughly triple what is currently available. One resident asked council if they believed it was fiscally responsible to be tripling the size, and Findlater responded.
“This project has a lot more value than simply office spaces,” he said. “In terms of levering the other services that are in the area that are important to us, it has economic value, and I see it as an economic development project for the downtown area by assembling a group of provincial and private services in the area, it’s going to revitalize our downtown. That was first and foremost on our mind.”
While several residents spoke in favour of the project, there was one aspect many residents dislike. That aspect was the alternative approval process in place of a referendum, and Betty Morris put it best.
“I’m disappointed in council,” she said. “This is our first major project, this is going to be our signature piece for this municipality, and it’s a major amount of money. I believe that warrants asking the people in a referendum. I’ve seen other places where this is overlooked, and I can see you’ve done a lot of work, and good on you. I’m glad you’re looking after our money so well. I know the price tag is around $40,000 for a referendum, and I appreciate you looking after our money. But it’s a very small portion of the size of this project. I guess I would like to say by going around directly asking the people, this is a slippery slope. If you won’t go for a referendum for $10 million, would you ask us for $20 million? Or $30 million? Would you ask us for $50 million? I’m not debating the merits of the project, it’s the fundamental aspect that I believe citizens have the right to be asked to decide on the project.”
West Kelowna residents have until May 3rd to fill out a form opposing the AAP or project. If 10 percent of the voting population fills those forms (around 2,600 people), the AAP would be defeated and council would be forced to choose to either hold a referendum on the civic centre project, or abandon it.