A public hearing at Penticton City Council might have seemed eerily familiar to regular council watchers.
For the fourth time since 2012, a developer brought forward a proposal to build an apartment building at 273 Scott Ave., and for the fourth time, the neighbourhood turned out to oppose it.
“I feel that we are here because this developer is just not listening. He is not listening to the community, he is not listening to the neighbourhood, he is not listening to the OCP (Official Community Plan) and he is not listening to council,” said Don Mulhall, who lives next to the proposed apartment.
Each time the project has been brought to council, Mulhall said, the developers have been asked to bring back something more appropriate for the lot.
In 2014, then mayor Garry Litke made that point, when the third variation on the apartment block was brought forward.
“Council has been very clear all three times about what they expected to see come forward on this lot and it still has not been delivered,” said Litke in 2014. “I am afraid they simply haven’t met the mark that was expected at the previous public hearings. It is just too big, too dense, in an area that is already too busy.”
This Singla Bros. project has a long history, starting in August 2012, when it first came before council. After protests from neighbours, council gave the project conditional support and directed the developer to meet with the neighbourhood and address their concerns about the 18-unit plan. They failed to receive council approval in April 2014 for a 16-unit building, and downscaled the project once more to 13 rental units for another try in the fall of 2014. The version brought before council this week increased the number of units to 16 again.
“I cannot support the shoehorning of this massive apartment block on a lot that doesn’t meet the minimum requirements,” said Doug Tarbet, another neighbour. “This developer is continually coming with the same proposal.”
Coun. Helena Konanz argued in favour of the project, saying that no neighbourhood wants large rental developments, but housing affordability is a priority for council.
“This is a good development that will add to our rental stock and that is what we need,” said Konanz. “We are almost zero per cent rental rate right now and we need to do something about it.”
Coun. Judy Sentes said she has been on council for all four proposals, and was concerned by the arguments presented by audience members in favour of the project, who stressed the city’s overall need for rental housing.
“What I find offensive is the constant reference to the city needs affordable housing. No one is objecting to that statement. We do need more affordable housing, but this particular lot is undersized for that project,” said Sentes. “I know we need it. I can’t put something that I don’t think is appropriate in place, just because I think there is a need.”
Sentes moved that the variance request be closed and abandoned, meaning the developer would have to wait at least six months before bringing the project to council again, or try again with a design that is significantly different. Her motion passed, but with a one-vote margin, as Mayor Andrew Jakubeit along with Couns. Max Picton and Konanz voted against abandonment.
Mulhall said he is happy with the council decision, but isn’t sure the issue won’t come back.
“It gives us a reprieve,” he said, adding that he was happy with the vote to abandon. “We are not completely relaxed because he does seem very persistent.”