Waters: Kelowna growing up, in more ways than one

Council’s decision to go with a more urban development future is a major change

Urban growth or suburban growth?

That was the question for Kelowna city council Monday as it grappled with which version of the future it wants to see for development within its boundaries.

Having already indicated it liked a hybrid version of growth, one that would err on the side of single-family homes in suburban areas, council, in a close 5-4 vote, flip-flopped in favour of more urban development instead. And that will put more people into multi-family buildings in areas like the downtown, the Capri-Landmark area, Midtown, South Pandosy and the Rutland town centre.

Overall, most of the development is expected, under the new scenario, to take place in what’s considered the city’s urban core, with just 19 per cent in suburban areas.

But the decision was far from unanimous.

The initial vote on the staff recommendation to go with the suburban version of the future was defeated five votes to four. The subsequent decision to go with the more urban-focused vision passed by the same margin, with all the council members simply reversing their votes.

Opponents of the decision to change course fear the move will drive people out of the city and into neighbouring municipalities because limiting development in the suburbs will drive up price of homes even more.

The move is a major shift given Kelowna’s history of providing the dream of a house with a yard in neighbourhoods well outside the city’s commercial core. But the problem is fewer and fewer can afford that dream now.

So that was then, and this is now.

Not only has Kelowna changed dramatically over the last 20 years in terms of how, and where, people are choosing to live, house prices have skyrocketed in price, lifestyles are changing and urban amenities are become more important for many. Developers are cashing in by building more high-rises with condos and rental apartments, as seen by the “up-not-out” scenario currently seen, particularly downtown.

So council’s decision, in many ways, simply reflects a recognition of what is already happening.

During the discussion Monday, Mayor Colin Basran who supports the switch, said his mind was partially made up after hearing from a girl during the the Imagine Kelowna initiative.

She told him he and his council colleagues had to be mindful of the city they were leaving not only for her, but for those who came after her.

“That stuck with me,” he said.

The move is a big change to the city’s official Community Plan and set Kelowna moving in a different direction, developmentally, from the path it was on.

As controversial as it may be, the change signifies the city is growing up— and not just based on the height of the residential towers that springing up across the skyline.

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.

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