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Make way: 46-storey campus housing tower gets green light in Kelowna

Council passed the newly created CD28 zone making way for the tower
The UBCO campus tower is still planned for 46 storeys. (UBCO graphic)

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran had about enough of the hullabaloo that city council encountered during a public hearing on Tuesday night.

“That’s a first,” said Basran, after kicking someone out of the hearing.

The night got off to a rocky start after local resident Lisa Simone declared that Kelowna isn’t Seattle, Vancouver or Hong Kong.

She would be one of more than 30 residents who cited their concerns over the UBCO tower planned for 550 Doyle Ave. “It’s delusional to propose a 46-storey building on a lot zoned for 12 storeys,” said Simone.

Those in opposition of the tower claimed it would be too tall, citing its impact on neighbouring buildings, traffic and safety concerns. Several councillors and members of the public asked why the tower had to be 46 storeys.

Representatives for the developer said the height was driven by housing needs for students. That prompted a question from Coun. Maxine DeHart about potential Air BnB use when students were not attending classes.

“We expect the population in the building to be less in the summer,” said Aubrey Kelly, president and CEO, UBC Properties Trust. “It’s our intention to have whole-year leases. There will not be Air Bnbs, but short-term rentals of four months.”

Kelly said one of their goals is to maximize and monetize the site.

“Money usually comes from the province for universities,” he said. “There is no provincial or federal money going into this project. We will be building this project with a significant amount of debt. It’s not coming from the taxpayer.”

Resident Susan Ames organized a protest against the tower last week.“This is not a university, this is eight storeys of academics in a 46-storey building,” she said.

“You cannot pass this. It could fit into a much smaller building. It’s only been done because it’s UBC.”

Staff told council that the 2040 Official Community Plan (OCP) does allow for taller buildings in the area that provides significant public benefits.

In the case of the UBCO tower, those benefits are rental housing, post-secondary health and medical uses, enhanced streetscapes and expanded cycling facilities.

READ MORE: UBCO downtown tower planned to be Kelowna’s tallest building

The issue of how a potential fire in the tower would be handled was also raised, with a few individuals claiming the city would not have enough firefighters immediately on shift to respond to a blaze on the upper floors.

“The department is involved in the planning and development process,” said Kelowna fire chief Travis Whiting. “We are working on matching staff growth with city growth.”

While National Firefighter Association standards call for at least 43 personnel to respond to a high-rise fire, Whiting noted those are standards and not mandatory.

This after the Kelowna Professional Firefighters Association stated claims its members were once again forced to fight fires with unsafe staffing levels this past Saturday (July 23).

Several speakers supported the project pointing out it would have many benefits for the city and the region.

“It’s an incredible opportunity for the City of Kelowna and the Central Okanagan,” said resident Ryan Malcolm.

“Who would not want to have a top 40 educator their downtown. This is a win for the future of this community.”

Coun. Luke Stack said he shared concerns over height.

“We took a bit of a tongue lashing tonight,” he said.

“But that’s how our city works and how democracy functions.”

It would be near the end of council discussion that several people in the crowd yelled that council was ignoring public concerns, prompting the mayor to ask one person to leave, which they did.

However, Basran also said he appreciated the concerns over the height of the UBCO tower. “I also appreciated the graph staff provided showing a comparison with existing buildings and others that are being proposed. I’m excited to see this project break ground.”

Council passed the newly created CD28 zone that makes way for the tower, as only Coun. Charlie Hodge was opposed.

Gary Barnes

About the Author: Gary Barnes

Journalist and broadcaster for three decades.
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