September 20 was not a good day for Kelownians, as two controversial projects were approved.
Even though it was recognized it was a major departure from the city’s Official Community Plan, council approved, almost unanimously, the UBCO tower and re-approved the Westcorp hotel/residential project on Queensway
Here we go again. It is now evident the OCP is worth less than the paper it is written on.
Let’s look at those two projects first and then their contribution to the downtown “relandscaping” that happened over the past four years.
The UBCO tower
The public hearing a few weeks ago for the new CD28 zone required for the 46-Storey UBCO tower was quite animated and the city council heard some fierce opposition from many residents. Keeping that in mind, I have to admit that this council is talented when it comes to manipulate public opinion. In point of fact, during the closing remarks just before the final vote, (members of) council did not hesitate to claim, with a poker face, that reducing the tower’s height from 46 to 43 storey was the clear demonstration that this council had listened to the public. Seriously?
When will the council adhere to the OCP principles and guidelines?
Spare us the lecture about the OCP being a living document. What does this mean? Would that be, let’s pick and choose what we need as we go? The continual cherry picking is really irritating.
The Westcorp hotel/residential tower on Queensway
To re-approve this project four variances had to be accepted—the tower and podium exceeding heights, the oversize floor plate and a zero-meter setback. That makes the OCP and zoning by-laws just a set of meaningless guidelines and rules that this council regularly disregard.
This project was approved for the third time since 2017 and it is disturbing that none of the changes were considered during this last re-approval.
I will not waste time commenting on the lack of rational in having a 33-storey tower on the lakeshore but there is no doubt that it will stick out for all the wrong reasons. Coun. Charlie Hodge said it, beautiful building just in the wrong location.
The positive side of these two projects is the underground parking. After, being told numerous times it was not possible to build underground parking because of the high-water table, we find out it is technically quite possible. We have known that all along, it is just more expensive to build and maintain. That is the reason why greedy for-profit developers opt for above ground parkades (podiums). Podiums that now seem to be the norm in Kelowna.
We have the explicit example of podiums negative visual impact with the Ella and One Water (towers) and the Brooklyn and Bertram on Bernard buildings under construction.
Water Street By The Park and the Westcorp tower, in addition to three levels of underground parking, need five-storey podiums to accommodate parking.
The argument we have frequently heard is that underground parking was not good(because of the) water table. If that is the case, Mother Nature might be trying to tell us not to build such massive towers close to the lake.
How will these two projects impact the downtown area? First, the future skyline and the headaches and inconvenience from the traffic jams all those towers will generate in the downtown core.
I have searched the city’s website and unless I am very much mistaken, besides a coupe of outdated studies, city planning does not seem complete traffic impact assessments for each and every project.
With nine (tall) buildings built, under construction or approved, with nearly 1,500 additional residences, all in a radius of three blocks (from Leon Avenue to Doyle venue and from Water Street to St Paul Street) it does not take a PhD in urban transportation to foresee a major traffic challenge in the downtown core when all those towers are occupied.
The Waterstreet/Queensway roundabout will be, beyond any doubts, a huge gridlock when the Westcorp tower flushes that intersection with the cars from its 175 hotel rooms and 65 condos.
To make matter worse, during the council meeting, just before the vote to approve the UBCO tower, Coun. Mohini Singh started asking questions about traffic impact but was firmly cut short by Mayor Colin Basran, who stated it was not the time to discuss traffic impact.
Mr. Mayor, when will it be the right time then? When will city planning and this council stop ignoring the existing and growing traffic challenge this city is facing?
The near future will tell us, but the one question that comes to mind is, was it judicious for council to approve these two very controversial projects 25 days before the municipal election?
On Oct. 15th, with our votes, we have the opportunity to voice our opinion and reinstate some common sense in city Hall.