Letter: West Kelowna not trusted to prepare referendum question

There is now a conflict of interest if the city hall/civic centre referendum is prepared by the administration.

Open letter to the City of West Kelowna council:

The city council and senior administration have invested heavily both financially and emotionally in the plan they put forward for a $15,000,000 civic administration building (plus probable cost overruns). The opposition to the plan you created is overwhelming considering the obstacles put in place for an alternative approval process which prevented many citizens from registering their opposition.

Based on the mayor’s comments in the press and councils’ reported reaction to the ‘No’ petition (AAP), signed by 3,871 citizens (more than half the total 6,651 voters in the last election), it is obvious council is still convinced the only solution is the one clearly rejected by so many people.

There is now a conflict of interest if the referendum is prepared by the administration. This administration can easily prepare a referendum that is hard to understand, hard to vote on and crafted to produce the answer desired by the council and administration.

The referendum should be prepared by independent solicitors, include some basic guideline options and not a simple “Do you want a new city hall? Yes or No.”

Those opposed to the plan are not objecting to a new city hall; they are not rejecting the other good work that has gone on in the city by this council and administration, they oppose this particular plan and for many good reasons.

The opposition expressed is clear and overwhelming.

To name a few:

1. The site was selected based on the Revitalization Plan, which in itself was predicated on changing Highway 97. The province rejected that concept.

2. The civic centre proposed is not convenient or central to the majority of residents of the city.

3. The 2013 council resolution considered Westbank as the Urban Core.

4. The concept of Westbank becoming the social, commercial and retail hub is nice, but the developments on WFN lands already own that position. It is in fact the “urban core” for retail, office and financial matters. Westbank is a great neighbourhood shopping area, cultural district and possibly a boutique shopping area sometime in the future.

5. The city has to buy the land from the developer at today’s market price when the city already owns suitable land, or could acquire it directly in a more central location.

6. The city will be forced to put in major roadwork, underground services, sidewalks, bike/walking paths, streetscapes, benches and landscaping in an area where only one side of the road is being developed and there are limited existing homes.

7. There will be pressure to remove the agricultural land right across the street from the ALR to justify the infrastructure expenditures and reap the benefits (by developers) of the new civic plaza.

8. The city is locked into working with the developer to build the space, rather than a bid process for a simple design/build project. The risk of paying excessive amounts in the current plan is real.

9. The site is not central, and is in an area where multi-family zoning was previously approved, but proposed projects have not gone forward with a major developer. A real risk exists that the proposed residential will languish as did the last one.

10. Private public partnership developments have more often failed to meet their civic objectives than they are touted to achieve before the fact.

11. Having Interior Health in the developer’s building adds nothing to the city. Interior Health has thousands of square feet of developed rental space available but has done nothing to advance the community needs, until they too got a “deal” with the city.

12. Doubling the area of the present office is not necessary to accommodate foreseeable expansion. Designed future expansion should be part of the criteria for the new city hall, not built in advance.

13. Planning on rental income from the excess space developed now, in light of the high vacancy rate in the retail/commercial area on WFN nearby, is a huge risk.

14. Egress from north of Main Street on Elliot Road onto Highway 97 North, is bad now due to the design of the bus exchange between the highway couplet. Adding high volumes of civic vehicle and pedestrian traffic will only make it worse.

There are other reasons, but these seem to be the ones mentioned most often.

Those opposed to the plan ask that council step back and start fresh, with respect for the process result; please do not try a “work around” to get the result you focused on, and ignore the wishes of so many concerned citizens.

Doug Waines, West Kelowna