To the editor:
Reading of Westcorp’s current proposal for their Queensway/Kerry Park site, I can’t help but be reminded that this is only the latest version of the saga of this developer and his curious relationship with the City of Kelowna.
Readers may not remember, but Westcorp first came to Kelowna in the early 2000s with a proposal for “Lawson’s Landing,” a five tower development that included its current property but also about one third of Stuart Park. The developer and the mayor of the day, Walter Gray, signed a confidential agreement (later obtained through a Freedom of Information request) stating that if the Simpson family would agree, Westcorp could encroach on the city’s land along the lakeshore.
After years of unproductive negotiations, Mayor Sharon Shepherd and her council arbitrarily removed the covenant, a 1946 agreement between S. M. Simpson and the City of Kelowna that restricted the use and disposition of the 11 acres of the civic centre lands. The Save the Historic Simpson Covenant Society took the city to court and in a 2008 Supreme Court of B.C. ruling found that the terms of the covenant were in fact legal and binding: The City could not sell or lease the civic lands to Westcorp – or anyone else.
Undeterred, Westcorp has offered several different plans in the years since, some of which were approved by the council of the day, and they have offered various explanations as to why the project has not proceeded.
And here we are again this week, with yet another plan, though this time without the support of city staff, which unfortunately did not deter council. Why has a succession of city councils—and mayors—been so enthralled with this developer? Why do they keep approving his proposals in spite of his remarkably poor performance? Sure, he donates to their election campaigns (really bad optics!) but really … it’s been over 10 years and he has not followed through with any of his proposals.
The current plan is ridiculous—it looms over the best and most accessibly picturesque part of our historic downtown. The neighbours are all one and two-storey brick structures and the proposed hotel/condo creates an enormous visual wall, obscuring Okanagan Lake from the rest of the community, and visa versa.
A nice restaurant on the 17th floor is irrelevant—there are already so many restaurants just steps away. Sure his neighbours supported it—they are looking after their own interests, not those of the broader community, and perhaps unwittingly, their own demise.
Descendants of those who created this original community, among them the Kerry, De Mara, and Simpson families who have deep roots in this area, have long advocated for an accessible civic and visual space adjacent to Okanagan Lake—not because they have any personal gain but because it makes for wise and good planning, and creates a lakeshore that is welcoming, as well as one that is geographically and visually available.
It also preserves the few remnants of what makes Kelowna unique. If Westcorp’s latest proposal actually gets built, we’ve completely lost possibility.
Sharron J. Simpson, Kelowna