Kelowna Mountain 2014, Instagram.

Kelowna Mountain 2014, Instagram.

COLUMN: Kelowna Mountain vision seeks a rebirth

Barry Gerding discusses the possibility of Kelowna Mountain returning

Since moving to Kelowna 20 years ago, I can only recall one time where I felt frightened, of being in a situation maybe I shouldn’t be.

That happened while walking along the swing bridges at the Kelowna Mountain development.

I stood nervously in the middle of one of the development’s swing bridges and began to realize this was a bad time to face my previously covered up fear of heights.

A queasy stomach might have been a similar reaction within local civic government when alerted to the prospect of Michael Consiglio reviving his Kelowna Mountain dream development.

A positive article by a business publication in Vancouver last summer extolling the virtues of Consiglio’s financial business prowess opening up a new pathway to revive the Kelowna Mountain project was followed by local media reports that his self-titled visionary concept might be back on the drawing board.

His adversarial approach in the last go-round no doubt left some hard feelings on all sides, reflected by a lawsuit Consiglio filed against the Regional District of Central Okanagan that remains before the courts.

The multi-billion-dollar development scheme began when Consiglio purchased 259 acres on Kelowna Mountain in the South Slopes end of the city for $7 million.

From there, a bold vision began to unfold – dreams of creating a ski village, residential development, golf course, winery project, a canal linking different aspects of the property.

And, of course, investors would be pumped to pour millions into paying for it. It did get off the ground with the four swing bridges, giant outdoor sundial, the wine cave, welcome centre venue with an outdoor amphitheatre, and the beginnings of a trail system around the site.

But some of Consiglio’s agri-tourism property use ideas didn’t jive with the existing RU1 zoning, and the communication breakdown that went on between the regional district and the developer took hold.

The project hit a roadblock, the banks and investors started questioning the viability of the development, and Consiglio fled the local scene.

He landed in Richmond where he got involved in another project there to develop a sports mall, a combination of winter and summer sports recreational facilities combined with retail sports and entertainment-related shops targeted for industrial sites or shopping malls seeking a new usage.

Working with a partner, he found tenants interested in the project, such as SkateCanada BC, which in turn helped convince a deep-pocketed Toronto firm Nexus REIT to buy the mall buildings for $57.4 million in 2018 and carry on that project to the next phase, set to open next year.

In an email, director of community services for the regional district, Todd Cashin, confirmed the regional district has not yet been invited to the Kelowna Mountain revival celebration.

Neither he nor staff have had any communication about the project’s future.

“In terms of land use itself, nothing has changed from the regional district’s perspective. The property is zoned RU1 which allows for agricultural and rural uses,” Cashin wrote in the email.

While the lawsuit continues, Consiglio’s local media comments reached out to Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran to help him overcome the obstruction to his plans caused by the ongoing RDCO litigation.

Consiglio stated he looked forward to meeting with Basran in the near future “to discuss a mutually beneficial settlement of our lawsuit claim against the regional district of Central Okanagan, and about a positive, collaborative, community-minded future for Kelowna Mountain.”

For his part, Basran is not sure why Consiglio would have reached out to him publicly.

“I am not the chair of the regional district board. It would be more appropriate to reach out to (board chair) Gail Given,” Basran noted in an interview.

He had little else to say about Consiglio’s project revival, saying it remains out of sight, out of mind for city staff time.

“Until (Consiglio) makes application to do something, there’s not a lot to talk about. I think the only thing I could say from a Kelowna perspective is we have made no secret in our forthcoming update of the Official Community Plan that we are trying to limit urban sprawl because it makes sense economically and environmentally,” he said.

As for Consiglio, an attempt to reach out to him via texting with some basic questions elicited this return text from him: “I’ll let you know as soon as I’m ready to respond, asap, likely in the next 45 days.”

So is this project about to have a second chapter or will it remain on developer hiatus?

Meanwhile, it remains a welcome centre that is welcoming no one, an amphitheatre that remains empty and swing bridges that can challenge one’s fear of heights hanging idle.

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