Plans for 650 homes at Kelowna's southern edge rejected by council

Kelowna Daily Courier

RON SEYMOUR

Mar 1, 2021

Plans for 680 new homes in the Upper Mission were blocked Monday by Kelowna city council. Councillors voted 7-2 against development of the Thomson Flats area, agreeing with municipal planners' objection that the development amounted to an unwanted form of urban sprawl.

1thomson flatsThe project would have increased greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles being driven long distances, further stressed city roads, and saddled taxpayers with increased cost for municipal infrastructure, councillors said. "We can't keep doing things the same way anymore," Mayor Colin Basran said as council turned aside development plans for the 255 ha. area at the southernmost edge of the city's boundary. "Continuing to grow at our boundaries isn't the appropriate location for development," said Coun. Gail Given.

 Thomson Flats has been identified in city planning documents since the mid-1990s as an urban reserve area, meaning it was considered suitable for housing. But municipal planners say notions of good development have changed since then, with cities more focused on higher-density housing in established town centres and existing neighbourhoods.

"What's good for the environment for our city? What's good for our greenhouse gas initiatives? What's good for minimizing trips?" asked Coun. Luke Stack. "Staff has done a very detailed examination of what the implications would be for the overall growth of the city (if Thomson Flats was opened for housing)."

Coun. Brad Sieben voted against plans to block the development. He suggested more deliberation was in order, particularly on subjects such as traffic impact. "There's too many unanswered questions," agreed Coun. Mohini Singh, who also voted against blocking the project.

Would-be developers had rejected characterization of the Thomson Flats project as urban sprawl, saying it should be seen rather as a long-planned and desirable form of suburban infill next to the established communities of Kettle Valley, the Ponds, and Southridge. "It's part of a plan that started 35 years ago," Andrew Bruce, a spokesman for the Thomson Flats landowners, said in an interview last week. "There's servicing capacity at the doorstep, and it completes roads and trails and parks that were planned long ago and which will integrate well into the existing neighbourhoods."

 

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Kelowna pledges to convert 10 per cent of its light-duty vehicle fleet to zero-emission by 2023

Committing to green fleet

The City of Kelowna says it will convert at least 10 per cent of its light-duty vehicle fleet to zero-emission vehicles within the next two years.

That's a pledge the city is making to the provincial government as part of a new funding program announced at the beginning of the month.

"The new funding program has everything from training, advisory services, rebates for fleet assessments and facility infrastructure assessments," says infrastructure operations manager Ian Wilson.

He says there is also money available to implement some of those changes, including upgrades to the city's charging infrastructure, which he says will need to be undertaken as the city moves to more and more electric type vehicles.

At the present time, Wilson says the city has a wide range of zero, or low emission vehicles within its fleet, born out of a sustainability policy dating back nearly a decade.

"We have 21 hybrids in the city fleet. We have eight electric vehicles, one plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.

"We have some low speed electric vehicles. We also have a bike fleet and a-some electric bikes."

Wilson says the city is also looking at other means of lowering greenhouse gas emissions from its vehicle fleet, including R100, which is a 100 per cent renewable diesel fuel.

He says Kelowna is the only city outside Vancouver receiving the fuel.

In addition, he says the city is keeping an eye on the hydrogen fuel cell market.

A station is coming to Kelowna some time this year, however, Wilson says the unknown is cost.

"The value is how it's derived. Blue hydrogen is derived from natural gas. Typically, 80 to 90 per cent lower emissions," said Wilson.

"There is green hydrogen which is derived from water using electricity. It has theoretically zero emissions."

Coun. Luke Stack commended the city's actions, calling them commendable as it tries achieve a target of 12 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions than in 2007 by next year.

"Sometimes I get a bit discouraged with the progress we're making on greenhouse gas reduction, but I can see now after a number of years of focusing on this how the city and staff have been able to inch our way forward," said Stack.

"I am very pleased to see more and more options coming forward. I think over the next two years we are going to see a game changer on all kinds of vehicles that will be available," he added, pointing to GM and other automobile manufacturers who are moving more and more of their vehicles to electric.

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Kelowna councillors reject human rights push for fewer police

Kelowna Daily Courier

Alistair Waters

Feb 13, 2021

 A call by B.C.’s human rights commissioner to deploy fewer police officers and use the money saved to pay for infrastructure and services to make communities safer, including more housing, is not garnering any support from Kelowna city councillors. “I don’t personally think it’s a case of one or the other,” said Coun. Gail Given. She said in Kelowna’s case, the need for more RCMP officers is pressing and is being addressed by council, while city partnerships with other organizations and the province is helping provide more social housing. 

Kasari Govender spoke to the all-party committee currently reviewing B.C.’s Police Act on Thursday and told it the homeless and those in poverty have far more interactions with police. As such, police should be “de-tasked” where possible and the money saved used for housing and other services. But Given said in a growing community like Kelowna, more cops are needed to meet growing demand. Kelowna is currently the fast-growing city in the province and fourth fastest in Canada, according to recent statistics. But prevailing wisdom at City Hall says Kelowna is playing catch-up in numbers of officers after years of being under-serviced. As a result, council has steadily added more RCMP and bylaw officers in recent years, as well as more civilian support staff.

This year, the city will add eight more cops, with 11 more approved in the 2020 city budget. Currently there are 202 full-time RCMP officer positions funded by the city. In the last four years, a total of 42 officers were added to Kelowna’s RCMP detachment, in addition to nine additional bylaw officers and 36 support staff. But the police have not been the only focus, said Coun. Luke Stack. He said the city has been successful in getting the province to build social housing here. Since 2017, 269 new units of social housing have been built in developments across the city. Additional shelters have also been opened, albeit often amid controversy as area residents have, in most cases, opposed their location. Stack said the human rights commissioner’s call sounded to him like a “simplistic solution to a complex problem. … In Kelowna, we need more police officers,” he said. “We have been underserved. But we also need to do more to help people on the streets.” He noted Kelowna’s Journey Home initiative, with its goal of 300 more housing units for the homeless over five years and the push by Mayor Colin Basran as part of the B.C. Mayor’s Caucus for more complex care housing, as just two examples.

 Coun. Ryan Donn said because the city pays for policing, and social housing is a provincial responsibility, simply cutting back on one does not mean the money saved from one would automatically go to the other. He said the city typically provides land for provincial social housing projects as part of its partnership with B.C. Housing, and over the next few years plans to triple the amount it spends on land for those projects. That would bring the total to $600,000.

 Both Coun. Mohini Singh and Maxine DeHart, echoed the sentiment that social housing should not be provided at the expense of hiring more police officers in the city. “I would not be in favour of robbing the number of officers to pay for housing,” said DeHart, adding it’s a complex issue, not one of simply passing money from one area to another.

 Mayor Colin Basran, and councillors Charlie Hodge, Brad Sieben and Loyal Wooldridge could not be reached for comment prior to deadline.

 

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Central Green Completes

Final Phase of Central Green Approved

AM 1150 Baillie VickersMonday, February 8th 2021

Kelowna city council approved the final stage for the Central Green development on Monday, located on the former KSS site at the corner of Richter St. and HWY 97. It marks the end of a decade long discussion that saw several changes to planning and the minds of council over the years.

 The final step of the project includes two 6 ½ storey buildings and 214 rental suites with what staff say will be four commercial tenants. Mayor Colin Basran said though the proposal now looks much different than initial plans, the intention was ultimately met.

 "We have met the density targets, it has been at the expensive of less commercial, retail and office space but I’m OK with that given its proximity to downtown. Then you just have to just think ‘overall what is the benefits to the community in this particular instance?’ Rowcliffe Park is beautiful and we forget about the supportive housing that is in this, which again is so vital and I might add that supportive housing integrates with zero problems to the neighbourhood."

 The final build out of the project will include 748 units, including 527 rentals (125 for supportive housing) and 221 condos for sale. Broken down, it covers micro-suites, studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units.

Councillor Luke Stack said the project fulfills their vision of downtown residential living. "This was a plan to stimulate that and show that living in the urban centers was a viable option. The inner courtyard is really lovely and in the renderings it shows this beautiful spaces which again was the concept of some nice outdoor shared space and the road improvements of HWY 97 with the turn onto Richter and the overpass are major gains for this area.”

Central Green will eventually be connected to Downtown Kelowna by a highway overpass designated for walking and cycling.

Councillor Charlie Hodge, who cast the soul vote against, opposed the project saying it didn't have the "wow factor" or include 3-bedroom suites for small families.

Councillor Gail Given applauded the overall build.

“I love the landscape plan, I think the plaza will be quite beautiful and I'm really excited for when we have a pedestrian overpass that can connect our residents safely to our downtown core. We are getting more and more residential on the southern side of the highway and I think this will be an amazing connection to the employment hub of the downtown centre.”

Construction is scheduled to begin later this year.

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Budget 2021

Castanet: December 10, 2020

Coun. Mohini Singh called it a 'no frills budget," while Mayor Colin Basran called it fiscally prudent, one he will have no problem defending to taxpayers.

Following a lengthy review, council settled on a provisional budget which includes a 4.04 per cent tax increase.

That's down slightly from the proposed increase of 4.27 per cent.

But, without assistance from the provincial government, Coun. Luke Stack says city taxpayers would have been looking at a very different scenario.

"What really saved our bacon is the Safe Restart program that came in at $7.88 million," said Stack.

"If we did not have those funds coming in to the city, we would be in a very tough situation.

"Just imagine if we had to reduce our services by $7 million, or raise taxes to cover that additional $7 million, we would be looking at a very frightening scenario, so hats off to our provincial partners."

Council made only two changes to the financial document staff presented. After much deliberation, council agreed to fund a newly created Champion of the Environment staff position and a building master plan from reserves rather than taxation.

Both items were debated a couple of times before city manager Doug Gilchrist suggested reserves could be used for the initiatives staff felt were very important going forward.

In defending the building master plan, deputy city manager Joe Creron said it was one of the most important items in the budget document. He says the city has more than 127 buildings that are getting old and need the city's attention.

After additional deliberation, council also agreed to fully fund the final two phases of city hall renovations, which included $526,000 funded by the taxpayers.

Staff indicated commercial construction prices are low right now and, by doing both projects together, estimate an overall savings of 25 to 30 per cent.

An additional $100,000 for the Journey Home Society will remain a Priority 2 item, however, council may agree to fund it before final budget once they hear further rational from the society in the new year.

Council was sympathetic to the society after learning they will likely not ever quality for charitable status, which closes the door on several other funding and grant opportunities.

The 4.04 per cent increase means the owner of an average $691,000 home will pay an additional $85 in municipal taxes in 2021.

"We utilized our rainy day fund for the 2020 budget," said Basran.

"It would have been nice to utilize reserves for more, but we don't have that ability, so as a result of that, I think we passed a very responsible budget for a community that still continues to grow.

"And, where people still demand exceptional service, and in an organization where the services we provide are essential."

Basran also reminded taxpayers that, unlike senior levels of government, municipalities are not permitted to run a deficit.

The budget did include the additional of eight new RCMP officers as well as three staff positions. The eight officers, who likely won't arrive until later next year, bring to 19 approved by council since the release of the Griffiths Report a year ago.

That report suggested the city hire as many as 56 new officers by 2025 in order to catch up to staffing demands.

The budget could still change slightly between now and final budget in May.

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Remembrance day - 2020

Although we cannot gather together on November 11, 2020 to remember those who serve and served; we can take a moment to vist the field of crosses in Kelowna City Park to have a moment of remembrance. Gail Given, Loyal Wooldridge and I did so today. "Lest we forget."

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Housing remains a priority at the City

Housing tops city needs

Castanet, Wayne Moore Sep 23, 2020

 The City of Kelowna continues to make social issues a top priority. Specifically, finding suitable housing for people with complex needs.  That topic was front and centre during virtual meetings between Mayor Colin Basran and several provincial ministers last week. The face-to-face meetings are traditionally held during the annual Union of BC Municipalities convention which began Tuesday, but were scheduled the week prior this year. Basran says he discussed that issue in a joint meeting with both the Minister of Housing and the minister of Mental Health and Addictions. "There were two things, one to continue funding for supportive housing projects, but the bigger topic was how we are going house people with complex needs, who are not well enough to move into supportive housing projects," said Basran. "On the social issues front, that is our top priority." Basran says these are people with mental health and addiction issues, brain injuries or fetal alcohol syndrome who have been forced onto city streets. "Often times there's little to no chance of rehabilitation, but they still deserve a place to live, and supports. "Those are the people who get the most attention on our streets, and who residents see as not being helped, and wonder why nothing is being done. It's because their needs are so complex they can't just go into a supportive housing project." He said he had hoped to have Health Minister Adrian Dix on the call because they mayor believes those individuals will require supports from the health ministry as well.

 "That was also a topic of conversation with the premier, because we need the health ministry onboard when it comes to helping those with complex needs." Basran says the topic of winter and cold weather shelters was not discussed, because those talks are already underway at the staff level. He says they are discussing site identification and service providers and, while there is no news to report, Basran says they are further along in the process than they were at this time last year.

 

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New Team to Focus on Troublesome Properties

New team focuses on troublesome properties

A new collaboration between police and government agencies is cracking down on properties where unsafe living conditions or suspected criminal activity have attracted neighbours’ attention.

The Property Standards Compliance Team (PSCT) is a new initiative started in June that brings together RCMP, City of Kelowna staff, Kelowna Fire Department and other agencies as needed to attend potentially unsafe or illegal properties.

The goal of the team is to act on repeated complaints from neighbours about properties. It combines enforcement of criminal activities with RCMP when necessary, in partnership with City Bylaw and building inspection staff.

“We receive calls from concerned neighbours throughout the year, as do the RCMP, about properties that are causing repeated disturbances to the neighbourhood,” said David Gazley, Bylaw Services Manager. ”This approach puts the onus on the property owner to address the concerns, rather than focusing on the tenants who might be the source of complaints. The fines and orders from the team motivate the property owner to take action.”

In a recent case, Bylaw Services issued tickets totaling more than $2,500 to a property owner. More specifically, the Bylaw officer attended with the RCMP and City Building Inspectors and issued the following six tickets to the property owner:

  • more than five occupants not related
  • illegally occupied bedroom in the furnace room
  • illegal occupied utility trailer
  • illegally occupied shed
  • illegal room in the carriage home attic
  • Building without a permit in the attic

RCMP attend to investigate possible criminal activity, while other government agencies might also attend to assess public health and safety issues.

“We have always collaborated with RCMP and others on property complaints, but this team takes a more coordinated and proactive approach to establish priorities and to bring the right people into the residence to assess illegal and unsafe conditions,” said Gazley.

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City Hall's An open book

2020 0718 Open Book

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Money Destined for Housing Retained

Money destined for housing will not be shared with Tourism Kelowna

Housing wins over tourism

Kelowna city council voted down a recommendation to have online portal accommodation revenue split between affordable housing and tourism marketing next year.

The recommendation was made as Tourism Kelowna struggles with funding to market the city to tourists from across the province.

Since allowing OAP's such as AirBNB in late 2018, the city has collected a three per cent fee from each short-term rental similar to the hotel tax collected on each room rental.

While the hotel tax revenue goes directly to Tourism Kelowna for marketing, the province has given municipalities the ability to use OAP monies for either tourism marketing or affordable housing.

City council has chosen to use that money for affordable housing.

Because room tax revenue has fallen off sharply due to COVID-19, with no guarantee of the full return in 2021, it was suggested the OAP be shared 50-50 between affordable housing and tourist marketing.

Council voted it down 5-3 with only Mayor Colin Basran and councillors Brad Sieben and Gail Given supporting it.

Basran said the main crux of the matter in allowing short-term rentals nearly two years ago was to regulate an industry that was causing havoc in the city.

He said getting OAP revenue on top of that was a bonus.

"But, I'm comfortable in the fact we have many ways of funding property acquisition if we need to, particularly in the short term," he said.

"If BC Housing comes knocking tomorrow, and says we have an opportunity, I have every confidence we would be able to find a way to purchase that property to move a project forward. This is not going to inhibit, for one year, our ability to move forward with affordable housing projects."

Basran says it comes down to the health aspect by opening the city up to tourists from around the province.

He added the city continues to follow the advice of Dr. Bonnie Henry who says people should feel free to move about around the province, and Basran says Tourism Kelowna should continue to market the city that way.

Coun. Luke Stack agreed comments about following the lead of the provincial health officer, but couldn't support the motion on principle.

"I actually believe once we give up this fund going into the affordable housing pool, year-after-year there will be an excellent year why not to put it in the pool because there will be other needs," said Stack.

"Using tourism advertising, I think changes the direction. In my opinion, once the direction is changed, we will never get it back. That's why I think we should stay the course as long as we can, because I think this will help build a foundation we need for the longer term."

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