On Monday Kelowna city council will begin unravelling a plan to redevelop downtown that a few weeks ago was only one stitch away from completion. And depending on how much it pulls the threads apart, council could find itself having to sew a new plan from scratch.
At its 8:30 meeting Monday, Mayor Sharon Shepherd and the seven councillors will have their first public discussion of the controversial CD-21 zone plan since they voted 6-3 on Feb. 22 to re-open the plan rather than give it final adoption. A report prepared by city staff says council will get a “high level review of the history of the process to date.”
Council will also be presented with a proposed agenda for a March 29 workshop where staff and city-paid consultants will “fully educate Council on the details of all aspects of the proposed CD#21 rezoning and answer questions posed by Council.”
After this workshop, city staff will take any amendments to the plan proposed by council and investigate their implications. Depending on how extensive the proposed changes are, city staff could have to drop other projects they are working on in order to turn their attention to the CD-21 zone and it could cost a lot of tax dollars if engineers and architects need to be brought in to make revisions.
Substantial changes could also mean the plan will have to go to another public hearing and then be sent, once again, to the Ministry of Transportation for approval.
Both those steps are cumbersome. The public hearing for the current plan, held in October 2008, heard from 67 speakers and lasted 9.5 hours while the ministry took about 14 months to approve the plan with minor modifications.
Council is taking a big gamble here. Critics have loudly condemned the move to reopen the plan arguing modifications could still have been implemented through bylaw amendments after the current plan was adopted. Many see this step as a way to kill the plan by putting it into a never ending limbo.
The councillors who voted to revisit the plan have said they mostly like the plan but are uncomfortable with certain aspects of it, notably its call to put a hotel on what is now park land.
Personally, I share concerns about giving up park land and think it’s a good idea to take advantage of the lull in the economy when no one is going to be building anything anyway, and come up with a plan that properly protects the public interest. Once developers have gobbled up the land and put shovels in the ground, it will be too late.
But the challenge now for council, and one I really hope they are up to, is for them to back up their words by focusing their attention on a few really important issues and not nit picking the plan to death.
Need a primer on what exactly the CD-21 zone is?
Here’s a story I did summing up the plan as part of my coverage of last November’s municipal election: What to do about downtown development (Kelowna.com, Nov. 23, 2009)
More recently, my former colleague John McDonald, had a pretty good round up of the proposal as part of a recent column: Awkwardly-named CD21 zone still years away from completion, even if it gets past city council (Kelowna.com, Feb. 18, 2010)