To the editor:
Kelowna Council recently approved a variance that raised the allowable building height on Sunset Drive from 22 meters to 119 meters above grade. The developers, city staff and Council over-zealously gushed that this was necessary because the buildings was iconic.
But an icon to what? The answer is an icon to poor public policy, bad urban planning and greed.
Good public policy would not create a zoning bylaw with loopholes developers can drive trucks through. In this case, the C7 Zone has a density limit that allows a building to have a floor area nine times the area of the property it sits on. The allowable floor area of the project was huge at 103,500 square meters. If fully built out into small suites, it would have created a number of density related problems in the downtown core, such as infrastructure servicing and parking. The allowable height of 22 meters, or about 7 1/2 storeys, would not be an eyesore. But an eyesore is what we got.
Good public policy and urban planning would not allow planners to support proposals from developers that reduce density by 41 per cent in exchange for a 500 per cent height increase that impacts the urban environment and valley views. A thoughtful and people-friendly zoning bylaw should contain realistic height and density objectives for downtown developers to follow, not ones where deals have to be made to trade more height for less density. This policy and planning practice only creates a race for the top to see who can build or approve the tallest building in town. It fails to encourage well thought out buildings where views are not impacted by the next high rise project.
Greed is the motive here. The extra height provides fewer residential units but almost all of them have terrific views of the lake and valley, which command high market prices. This drives up unit prices and attracts foreign investors away from Vancouver and Toronto condo markets to sleepy, sedated Kelowna. Here they will park their money, flip condos for a huge profit, charge high rents, leave units unoccupied, drive up local housing costs and move on. Providing affordable housing is not an option for foreign investors.
Kelowna council is out of touch. It was not elected to attract and pander to foreign investors and their developers. They were elected to serve existing taxpayers and to protect them from the social, economic and environmental impacts created by bad public policy, bad planning and greed in the development industry. Lost in this race to the top is the fact that taxpayers actually subsidize 28 per cent of the costs of roads, parks, sewers and water infrastructure needed by these projects and the fact that this public cost is no longer sustainable.
Councillors need to spend more time with average folks trying to buy homes without being gouged by rising taxes and servicing costs. Their battle cry should be “Can tourism industry workers afford to buy these high rise units?”
Most importantly, council needs to rewrite the zoning bylaws to create more affordable housing and to eliminate loopholes that create ultra-expensive high-rises that will sit vacant for years in buildings that serve only to block the sun from folks living in their shadows.
Richard Drinnan, Kelowna