Letter: Kelowna’s plans for parking a problem

The implications on the street, affordability, and future development in the area are significant

To the editor:

Renowned urban theorist Jane Jacobs identified one of the three qualities streets of a successful city require is “eyes upon the street” to insure safety. Buildings “cannot turn their backs … on it and leave it blind.”

As downtown Kelowna rapidly grows upward the connection of buildings to the street is increasingly important to defining the streets and their safety. While total building height is often debated, the quality of the lower levels is more critical.

Kelowna’s high water table poses significant restrictions to development—mainly the feasibility of underground parking structures. Many developments successfully hide parking with one level underground and upper levels behind housing and retail, preserving the streetscape.

The Ella development at Ellis and Lawrence challenges Jacobs’ theory with an imposing five storey parkade podium atop a 15 storey condo tower. Twenty-five per vent parking, 75 per cent living. This location has everything required to live car free: The highest walk score in Kelowna, close to car share, transit and cycling corridors. Yet the project has 22 per cent more parking than zoning requires. The developer also rejected putting one storey of parking underground necessitating the high podium.

Initial renderings show the quality of the design looking like a tower atop a parkade and only through iterations with city planning staff did the parkade begin to look more like a building passable for approval. Still, many of staff’s excellent suggestions were not implemented. It was therefore, odd to witness open praise to the developer of the design by certain council members prior to their vote.

For Kelowna’s downtown, the implications on the street, affordability, and future development in the area are significant.

While the ground floor of the project includes commercial space, there will be no eyes on the street after hours. Residents will be disconnected from the street setback high in their tower. Residential units in the podium could have solved this.

If the minimum parking requirements were used and one storey built under ground, the podium could have been 3 or 4 stories. Westcorp’s hotel proposes half or 156 of its stalls underground. Concerns of insufficient parking could have been mitigated through car share in the building or offering transit passes.

The five storey podium sets a precedent for podium height of future adjacent buildings creating a continuous wall. Worse if they are parking structures too, see Chapman Parkade which is only four stories. In Vancouver, famous for its livability and podium architecture, five stories is rare and care is taken to preserve streetscape and view corridors.

A recent CBC article identifies the slow death of urban parking due to the high cost, space requirements, and the availability of more affordable and convenient transportation options. This location has many options, yet owners will pay their share of the typical $65,000 stall construction cost – a missed opportunity for housing affordability or allocation of projects costs for energy efficiency instead.

Kelowna is looking to grow up from its past planning blights to infilling into the best mid-sized city. With this ambition, attention to the quality of its urban fabric is critical. A high water table and an appetite for parking necessitates Kelowna to be proactive instead of letting parkades drive the streetscape and safety.

Robert Stupka, Kelowna