To the editor:
It’s now been 29 years since Kelowna city council initiated a plan to create a large new public beach and park at the foot of Cedar Avenue (KLO Road becomes Cedar Avenue as it crosses Pandosy Street).
Land acquisition of 11 private properties was completed over an eight-year period from 1989 to 1997, but nothing happened afterward.
Plans for the waterfront park quietly went away until around 2004 when a hotel proposal on the southern half of the site was put forward but rejected after public uproar.
Things fell silent again until 2011 when the northern half of the properties were now proposed to be sold for development of a six-storey condominium complex (one could only assume the hotel plan for the south end would later resurface).
The public again rejected the plan and the city was reminded of the original intent to build a waterfront park.
In 2014 and under public pressure, the city finally rezoned the 900 feet of waterfront from residential to parks and open space, presumably to demonstrate their intent to prevent future temptation to sell the land.
While progress was finally made, the city also claimed that without tax increases there would be no funds available for park development for at least another 10 years.
As of today, the city continues to spend countless sums renovating the homes they rent at below-market rates compared to the tens of millions of dollars in land these homes sit on.
In 2017, $14 million in park funds was found to purchase waterfront property along the less-accessible Bluebird Road. Just recently another $4.2 million in park funds was found for a single lot next to the sailing club.
Still, the city insists that zero funds are available to make the amazing Cedar Avenue stretch of sandy beach accessible to the public. The only conclusion I have is the city still intends to someday build something rather than make this a park.
Perhaps city hall intends to wait another decade or more hoping those who have the passion and know the history will eventually disappear. Or, perhaps there are some hard feelings because this unfortunately ended up being an emotional public and political battle.
The good news is that about a year ago the KLO Neighbourhood Association (KLONA) began meeting with the city to discuss the possibility of raising $800,000 through private donations to once-and-for-all secure this land forever and build the actual park now.
The city has expressed interest but their cost estimate grew to $1,700,000, an amount that needs to be vetted by KLONA.
KLONA has since been presented a draft Memorandum of Understanding to achieve this ambitious goal. The devil is usually in the details and so nothing can be signed unless KLONA first tests the waters to see if there is any appetite from affluent people in the community to make this legacy opportunity even possible.
A meeting to be held by KLONA at 7 p.m., Wednesday, June 27, at the Okanagan College room H115, invites anyone interested in learning more about the situation.
The Cedar Avenue waterfront park could become one of Kelowna’s most cherished beachfront parks because of the size, open waterfront, central location, proximity to the Pandosy Village and Okanagan College.
It would also be part of the very popular Abbott Street Recreation Corridor that someday will extend to and beyond Boyce-Gyro Beach. As someone who has spent over 14 years championing this cause, I would truly love to see it finally happen during what appears to be a positive but limited window of opportunity before the commercial development urge resurfaces from a new council this fall.
KLONA can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Neill, Kelowna