To the editor:
On Nov. 4, I watched in horror as Kelowna city council unanimously approved major changes to the Vintage Landing Project at a public hearing. This project sits on 870 acres of land along a kilometre of lakefront just north of the McKinley Landing neighbourhood and is limited to 1,000 hotel, motel and apartment hotel units for temporary tourist uses.
What really horrified me was that council approved the changes knowing that prior to the hearing, critical information on the ultimate size, scope and density of the project had been withheld from public view.
Citizens had issues with the lack of public notices posted on the property and with notices mailed to McKinley Landing residents.
Others had issues with the developer’s attempt to remove the 1,000 unit density cap on the project and to rewrite the zone to build as many units as he wished, without any public comment, review and oversight. The changes could have allowed up to 4,300 hotel units to be built.
Others had issues with the lack of a traffic impact studies to address public safety issues created on McKinley, Clifton and Glenmore roads.
Still others wanted to know how much this project would ultimately cost taxpayers and ratepayers, since the developer wanted to build forms of housing more suited to permanent residences than for short-term tourist accommodation.
During the meeting, city staff confirmed that project servicing would receive a 27 per cent public subsidy for roads (15 per cent), parks (10 per cent), sewer trunk line (1 per cent) and sewer treatment (1 per cent). As well, taxpayers and ratepayers would have to pay the costs of off-site services used by any permanent residents such as policing, fire protection, transit, libraries and recreation. Staff failed to provide public cost estimates for these services.
Only one person spoke out in favour of the project and he worked for a large developer in the area.
Only Coun. Hobson questioned how many new units would actually be built. After much obfuscation, waffling and claims of less than 1,000 units, the developer finally admitted he wanted at least 200 more units.
Surprisingly, every councillor, including Mayor Gray and Colin Basran, voted for 1,300 units—not 1,200 units. Some councillors criticized the lack of public participation, project details, public costs and layout drawings but they still voted to expand the project and to give the developer more public subsidies without demanding any public accountability.
Public hearings are not held to ignore real public concerns. Rather, they are held to listen to those concerns, to understand them and to act by placing public interests above private interests, which may involve delaying approval.
After 15 years in office, it is sad to see that Mayor Gray’s legacy will be: “Ignore the public—they just get in the way of business.”