RON SEYMOUR May 31, 2022 | from KelownaDailyCourier

A developer’s plan to nearly double the height of a downtown high-rise runs counter to the terms of a deal agreed-to by the City of Kelowna, a community group says.

The Kelowna Legacy Group wants council to reject a proposal to increase the height of a tower on the old RCMP detachment site from 13 to 25 storeys, and to invite new building proposals from other developers.

“We believe the average citizen would look at this situation and feel something is just not right,” the group said in a Tuesday release.

But city officials say the development company is within its rights to request permission for a taller tower at 350 Doyle Ave, and the issue of a height increase will be decided by a future vote of city councillors.

“The developer has submitted something they think is better and different,” top city planner Ryan Smith said in an interview, adding his department is still reviewing the revised plans.

“This will eventually go back to council and council can decide, do they support the design at a larger height and do they want to amend the contractual obligations after they hear the developer’s arguments for a higher height,” Smith said.

“Council may say to planning and to the city’s real estate team, ‘This isn’t acceptable. We want what was in that plan.’ That’s a risk the developer is taking,” Smith said.

A taller building with better views of Okanagan Lake would command higher rents for its suites, making the project more lucrative for the developer while not affecting the terms of the long-term lease the company signed with the city, the Kelowna Legacy Group claims.

“The new design provides unobstructed, luxury views from an additional 12 floors from this city-owned property just steps from Okanagan Lake,” the group’s release states.

Rather than approve the request for a taller building, the city should cancel the agreement with the developer and issue another request for proposals, the group says. “Certainly, there are many developers in town who would like to look at this option now that the rules have changed,” the release states.

The city invited developers to submit proposals for the municipally-owned property in 2019. After evaluating the submissions, which included aspects like how much developers would be willing to pay for a long-term lease of the property, the city chose one advanced by RISE Commercial Developments in 2020.

The site developers, now known as Wexford Development and Appelt Properties, have now submitted the revised design proposal, increasing the height of the tower from 13 to 25 storeys. But the total number of rental suites would be less, 259 compared to 316 shown in the earlier design.

“Working with guidance from the city, we have replaced the original form with a taller, more slender, and vertical tower design,” the developers stated in the revised application. “The taller, slimmer design is reflective of a more modern urban design approach, an important consideration in planning for Kelowna’s downtown.”

The tower design was changed, in part, as a result of opposition from residents of the nearby Madison mid-rise building and occupants of the Innovation Centre, who said the shorter but wider 13-storey building would have blocked views of the lake.

“The developer listened to feedback in the development process and said, ‘Could I make this better for my neighbours?’,” Smith said. “Oftentimes, you hear from neighbours that the developers have ignored them entirely and haven’t made any changes. In this case, they’ve made changes, and they’re getting roasted for that, it seems.”

Aside from the proposed change in height, other aspects of the redevelopment plan remain the same, such as extension of the Art Walk to connect between Smith Avenue and Doyle Avenue, and provision for street-level retail premises, and a 6,000-sq.-ft. ‘creative hub’ for arts and cultural activities in the new building.

The Kelowna Legacy Group has been critical for several years of the way the city has handled redevelopment plans for municipally-owned properties in the downtown core.

Its spokesman is homebuilder Les Bellamy, who drew attention last year to the fact that Mayor Colin Basran had not initially reported more than $30,000 in donations to his 2018 re-election campaign, made in 2016 and 2017, as he was legally required to do.