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CD-21 Zone developers want to sell you a piece of the sky

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010 | 5:30 pm

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Artists renditions of the controversial comprehensive development zone. (Graphic City of Kelowna)

News opinion

By John McDonald

There’s really only two ways to make money in real estate. Buy and hold until the price goes up or subdivide, that is, cut a lot in two and sell each piece for a bit more than half of the original price.

Cutting it into four lots is even better, especially if you can afford to build on each piece. Now economy of scale starts to kick in when servicing the lots and constructing the building.

High-rises are this principle taken to the surreal extreme. Find a piece of property, jump through the bureaucratic hoops, and start subdividing the sky. There’s a reason why developers are willing to go through that at-times painful process and it ain’t philanthropy.

The higher you can go, the more money you will make, because now you can not only sell a piece of the sky, but the view from it as well.

So it’s not hard to see why developers like Philip Milroy would love to take the best part of downtown Kelowna, subdivide and it and start selling it back to us. It’s also not hard to see why the man would put up $500,000 of his own money to see that vision through.

What is hard to fathom (as apparently the city planning department does) is how anyone could think that Milroy would do this out of the goodness of his heart. He wants to make a buck and lots of ‘em.

Working in his favour is the commonly-accepted notion that if medium-density housing is good, then high-density housing has to be better.

It’s a standard reply to anyone who questions the need for skyscrapers in downtown Kelowna. “We can’t keep building out, we have to start building up.”

I’ve said it myself, a well-meaning reply to a subject about which I have only instincts, no book-learning.

Is it possible that building a high-rise in downtown Kelowna, the so-called “up instead of out” solution to soulless suburbs built on farmer’s fields, can actually contribute to urban sprawl?

Peter Chataway, a local building designer and community activist who moved here from Vancouver in the 1970s, says it is.

Unlike John Zeger, another well-known CD-21 zone critic, Chataway doesn’t advocate dampening growth through development control, but he’s right on board with Zeger’s dislike for high-rises, especially in downtown Kelowna.

In his view, it’s all about human scalability.

“Anything higher than five stories, you can’t wave to your neighbour on the street. High density creates more crime and alienation. You put more rats in the cage, they fight more often,” says Chataway, who was on hand Monday afternoon to watch Kelowna city council backtrack on the zone. “They talk about putting eyes and ears on the street. You can’t police your community from any more than five stories.”

He points to some of the world’s great cities – Paris, Barcelona, and yes, Vancouver – as examples of this.

Furthermore, Chataway says high-rises and improperly planned communities actually turn neighbourhoods into “up and out” rather than “up instead of out” by forcing growing families to relocate to the ‘burbs in search of a bungalow big enough to raise a family. “Then they move back when the kids leave home,” he added.

While Zeger loves to bash what he calls Vancouver-style development, Chataway points to that city, or at least part of it, as an example how it should be done.

“Look at False Creek, the south slope, not the north side,” says Chataway, who puts it up as one of the best neighbourhoods in North America.

The south side of False Creek – Chataway makes a strong distinction between it and the north side – with the award-winning Granville Island as the jewel in the crown, is set amongst blocks of low to mid-rise housing strung along the seawall and marching up the slope to Broadway.

Mixed amongst the high-end market housing are co-operatives and rentals, along with a strong social housing component, managed by B.C. Housing.

“You get people like Art Phillips, the former mayor, who’s a millionaire stockbroker living beside someone on social assistance,” he said. “They might even bump into each other on the elevator.”

Chataway says that egalitarian concept is far from what he sees the CD-21 zone becoming in Kelowna – a sterile bank of condo high-rises sitting mainly empty while their wealthy absentee owners live somewhere else.

“It’s an economic ghetto where most of the units will not even be occupied on a regular basis,” he says. “Development here in Kelowna is already investment driven, not use-driven. You want property to be used, not just bought.”

And that includes, in his view, a healthy dose of social housing dropped in and amongst the high-end condos.

“It’s the scattered unit philosophy,” he adds. “You put scattered affordable units in all the buildings. You don’t ghetto-ize the poor and unfortunate in one building.”

What downtown needs, he says, is housing and amenities that can accommodate families, big and small, so as to keep them in place.

“If a young professional buys a condo downtown and it doesn’t have the amenities to raise his family, he will end up having to move,” Chataway adds. “The place he can afford is way out in the suburbs.”

The CD-21 Zone, as it stood before yesterday afternoon, was designed during the real estate frenzy predating the 2008 recession.

That was then. This is now.

The return to first reading of the CD-21 Zone is a chance to take a breath and really dig deep into not only what the community wants, but what it needs. And that might not be 27-storey condo towers.


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12 Responses to “CD-21 Zone developers want to sell you a piece of the sky”

  1. Phil says:
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    Okay I hate to state the obvious but Kelowna is a City people barely wave the neighbor unless they pass them in their condo or see them across the street from their house, and that’s a STRETCH.

    If you want that force 50% of all new developments to be low LOW low income housing because sorry that’s what will be needed by the time this project ever clears the table most of us will live from paycheck to paycheck and be only one away from the street which you know is already the case for many.

    It is common in Kelowna for the neighbors not to know each other and to use that outdated and naive hope to hold back the growth and reconfiguration, some may say renovation of Kelowna is quite ridiculous.

    The developer Philip Millroy (i like his first name btw) naturally will want to make money where in the world have you been to assume that someone will do this purely out of the goodness of this heart.

    This barely ever happens however he wants to supply public green spaces, and create a far more beautiful city core for the public of Kelowna.

    That being said you worry about people living in the suburbs because that is the only way they can afford to live in this city.

    !!!!!!!! YOUR TO LATE ON THAT ONE !!!!!!!!
    People can barely afford to live here in the first place because housing, rent costs are insane.

    If we can finally fix this and create a core in which the housing is priced higher and the outskirts cheaper well you know what then so be it, because at this point no young person can POSSIBLY consider buying a house here as their income cannot come even close to the prices. You say that isn’t so? Have you see rents for good condos? They are the cost of mortgages…

    Sorry to destroy the dream that Kelowna is in a shape to say no to the jobs, tourism, and long term employment those developments bring we need them! Kelowna currently is starting to feel the impact of the recession and its getting worse companies are starting to see small or empty receivables folders, a decline in customers which indicate to them that they have to let people go or reduce operating hours.

    Wake up and smell the roses! I wish someone would do a study (sit down for a day that is, not this 10,000 dollar 1 year studies) on how many jobs those projects would create or keep.
    I’d bet with you it’d be well over a few thousand.

  2. Mott Hoople says:
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    Well written.

  3. GET REAL says:
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    Typical peanut galley commentary. CD-21 was planned and negotiated to 3rd reading in -good faith- and at unbelievable cost and effort on the part of the applicant. Now the City has in -bad faith- chose to make an unspeakable move of monumental ignorance and arrogance to send this back to a public hearing. The developer should sue the City. What developer (from here on) in his right mind would consider making an application to a Council with a majority of amateurs. The consequences of this decision will ripple back to the City’s revenue sources and those deficiencies will certainly be passed on to the taxpayers, in return for less and less services. Way to go.

  4. Geoff says:
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    First off I love that he compares humans to rats. That gives a lot of insight.

    This idea of keeping family’s located downtown is a myth. Parents will have different needs/ideals that take them out of the downtown area. Things like yards or a specific school often prompt family’s to relocate. You want familys to stay make in the downtown area maybe they don’t want to.

    For good examples of how going higher can work look at Calgary and Seattle. Kelowna is an embarrassing mess of poor planing. We have to be looking 20 to 50 years down the road not to the next election.

  5. Phil says:
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    I fully agree we tend to be extremely short sighted in Kelowna planning (ex. Benvoulin 4 laning then ripping it up 1 year later for sewers doubling paving costs) To think 20-50 years ahead is the way to go but i fear with the way the council is acting currently that will NEVER happen… I think they live in the here and now and cannot get past that.

  6. Brett Sichello says:
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    First off, this is not a “news opinion” article, this is an “opinion” piece and it is ridiculous that it is the “Top Story” when it is an opinion piece. I do agree with some of the points in the article but some are just not based in reality.

    I do agree that different classes of people should be mixed and not segregated. The City should research the St. Lawrence Market area in Toronto where it is a mix of 10 storey co-op and condo buildings with commercial/office use on the first two floors and a couple of blocks of family sized townhouses in behind the condos. The mix of social classes makes it one of the nicest areas in the city and one of the most successful housing developments in the world.

    Where the article loses me is this comment, “Working in his favour is the commonly-accepted notion that if medium-density housing is good, then high-density housing has to be better.” This is commonly accepted? By who?

    The basis of the article is centred around the idea that the downtown needs “housing and amenities that can accommodate families, big and small, so as to keep them in place.” and “If a young professional buys a condo downtown and it doesn’t have the amenities to raise his family, he will end up having to move, the place he can afford is way out in the suburbs.”

    I whole heartedly agree with this but I also live in reality. Number one, the amenities required for families are already downtown. There is a grocery store, doctors, dentists, daycares, offices, sports facilities, the lake, etc. Regardless if they are 6 storey buildings or 27 storey buildings the amenities will be there. What the article forgets is that city zoning bylaws do not dictate the size of units so why would a developer who is spending millions on a piece of land downtown build family sized units if they can build smaller units and make more profit? Welcome to reality! The City can’t control how big of units the developer will build and even if they did what typical family could afford it? For instance, I just checked the MLS because John McDonald’s recent article quoted John Zeger saying “Shane Worman found it profitable to build there with his six storey plus penthouse structure. He didn’t need 27 storeys in order to build.” I’m sure that Mr. Worman did make a profit, but who is living in those units? The MLS still has two units available for anyone who has the money. A 796 sf one bed/one bath for $329,900 (MLS 10000202) and a 1487 sf two bed/two bath for $825,000 (MLS 9221874) with $462/month maintenance fees. Hey John and John, have you checked how many families are living in the Worman building?

    I agree that 6-10 story buildings are more aesthetically pleasing but if you think that families are going to be able to afford those units you are living in dreamland. Look at Kelowna…the rich live in their McMansions in the hills and the majority who work in Kelowna’s number one industry, retail, live in the bottom of the valley…is this going to change if we build 6 or 27 stories? Angela Reid’s argument is that shorter buildings are more environmentally friendly. This is true, I’m not going to argue that but if you can have double the number of people living and working downtown does that not mean fewer cars, less sprawl and better transit available to those people?

    Kelowna is a hodge podge of development as it is, the Landmark buildings not being downtown is such a disappointment and it has turned that entire area into a giant parking lot. The university being built in the middle of nowhere when it should have been built in the downtown core where the underutilized industrial lands are would have been incredible. Imagine, young, youthful, creative, artistic students living downtown….that is the downtown that I want to live in….one with people from all classes….regardless if it’s 6 or it’s 27….Kelowna is a place for people with money…not families. There is a reason why the number of young people in Kelowna is decreasing and school enrolment is down.

    John, John and the City Councillors who voted this down….time to wake up and face reality….

  7. Fred says:
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    I never liked most of the plan to begin with, but not because I am older and don’t want change. I was opposed
    because I can see the waterfront and downtown becoming an
    ungated city of seniors and that would not be good.
    We need communities to be mixed and we need to keep the
    area open for events. That wouldn’t happen if we turned
    the area over to seniors. The police say they have the
    drug problem under control downtown. No way, they dealers
    and the bottom feeders have moved to other parts of the
    city. The other thing I didn’t like was the way the original deal was done. Millroy wanted to come here and
    change our downtown, without regard to parks, the waterfront or anything else. When that didn’t work we could see he would get the plum of developing the whole
    downtown. The downtown was left to rot for years and all of
    a sudden big profits could be realized from selling to the
    international rich, again without regard to the local people. I do not oppose downtown redevelopment, I just
    don’t like the way this was done. Unfortunately this town
    was run by developers for the benefit of developers and now
    the show is on the other foot. We have council members for
    ordinary people, and sometimes I think they have leaned too
    far the other way. We have gone from no green to too green
    I think we need a second look, but we need to do something
    with the downtown that includes all the community. I think
    the people had their say last time, but public hearings are
    not serious exchanges of dialogue, all to often the decision has been made and hearings are formalities.
    Maybe this time the council will take the process seriously. I do hope something changes downtown as well even if it means doing again, properly this time.

  8. Symple says:
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    Good discussion, the article allows for controversy, and hopefully this will continue elsewhere in the community. First visit to this website, and have been in Kelowna for only eleven years now, but wanted to ask two questions and then make a rambling commentary.
    Firstly, what happened to the density model for the Gordon/Sutherland Capri-mall area? It seems the City had the right idea many years ago to have density centralized with services in this location, including the recreation centre, shopping mall and markets, as well as entertainment, but this area was never fully developed for all types of residents and really seems to depend on the hotel and seniors now.
    Secondly, why is it that Kelowna residents want to effectively build a wall along the waterfront of north Kelowna so that no one can see the lake and beaches other than on the west-side?
    I grew up on the waterfront in the lower mainland, and as time went by the old cottages were replaced by tall buildings until there was a wall at the ocean that could only be surmounted by going up the hillside. After social and business visits in a few of these new places along the wall, two common trends were apparent with the people that had the ‘ocean views’: 1. they had their blinds drawn most of the time because the brightness reflected off the water was uncomfortable to live with all the time 2. they put their large screen television right against the ocean views, in the common area and put the backs of their couches to the windows in the sitting areas. Having grown up in the area, it seemed mostly that these people wanted bragging rights that they lived at the beach, but then they drove everywhere else to do their shopping and business and didn’t have a public identity in the same community that they lived in –
    I see the same happening for the cd21 in the downtown as it was proposed. I work in the cd21 proposed zone five days of the week, and yes it needs help; however the developers will have to either move on and develop another area, or become more aware of the changing sentiment about Kelowna as a community, rather than Kelowna as a destination for those who can afford it for the weeks or months of the year they holiday here. We want there business, don’t get me wrong, but not by building a wall along the waterfront.

  9. John Zeger says:
    GD Star Rating

    Q: “Why is it that Kelowna residents want to effectively build a wall along the waterfront … so that no one can see the lake and beaches other than on the west-side?”

    A: Because they have sawdust for brains.

  10. Phil says:
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    Q: Why is it that someone who seems to be so educated sees a few towers (spread apart too) as a wall and feels the need to insult Kelowna Citizens that want some progress?

    A: …. I’ll let anyone reading this make up their mind on that one!

  11. Symple says:
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    “Q: Why is it that someone who seems to be so educated sees a few towers (spread apart too) as a wall and feels the need to insult Kelowna Citizens that want some progress?”

    The ‘few towers’ are part of a whole vista, and my reference is to the entire area north of the bridge including the mill. When viewed along the HWY 97 axis north at any elevation the lake literally disappears and becomes a silhouette of towers as it is now, with the new Waterscapes development being the pinnacle of on the skyline at the north end. I don’t mean to insult Kelowna citizens (I consider myself one now), or to quash ‘progress’, but this article really sets the appropriate tone though dramatic, so far as I am concerned with selling a piece of the sky. Go to this photograph I took of Kelowna, and zoom in over Dilworth to the area north of the bridge and look for the pattern; if not a wall then what? I’ll let you make your mind up on that one.

  12. Doug McIntyre says:
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    Unfortunately there is three things wrong with the original CD21 that very few articles cover.
    1. High Rises like this are not wanted by Kelowna residence.
    2. there is a definate conflict of interest in the Developer putting money up front. This is a cost of the City not a developer. Otherwise it has a very bad smell to it and will raise objections.
    3. Water front must be protected for Kelowna, do not allow lake view to be destroyed. We do not want a mini Vancouver but a true Kelowna spirt.

    It is important that a new plan be started that is in line with the official Kelowna Plan, as soon as possible.

    Please continue discussion on the forum: link

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