An affordable housing project proposed for 612 Main St. is asking for a zoning variance to go up five storeys instead of three. A public hearing on Monday had varied opinions. (Brennan Phillips)

An affordable housing project proposed for 612 Main St. is asking for a zoning variance to go up five storeys instead of three. A public hearing on Monday had varied opinions. (Brennan Phillips)

Opposing opinions aired about affordable housing project on Penticton’s Main Street

Concerns raised about how this housing will change the look and feel of downtown

Opposing opinions were voiced on a five-storey affordable housing project proposed for 603 Main St.

Several people, including the proponent M’akalo Housing Society, took to Zoom for the city of Penticton’s public hearing held on Monday evening.

Downtown Penticton Association executive director Lynn Allin told council that she has received many emails from people and businesses concerned about how this project will change the look and feel of downtown.

“Our downtown is precious and this will have lasting affects if it goes ahead,” said Allin. “It will completely change our downtown.”

The DPA submitted a letter to council on Dec. 2, detailing their concerns with the development.

READ MORE: Residents air concerns ahead of public hearing

One of the common concerns voiced is changing the zoning on Main Street to allow a five-storey building where only three storeys is allowed through the Official Community Plan.

“Three-story buildings are built on a human scale where people are recognizable; lower heights increase social interaction and connectivity with the streets; a continuous flow of business and retail along city sidewalks increases downtown walkability,” reads the DPA letter.

Once you allow one building to go up to five storeys, what is stopping another developer to want the same, said Steve Brown, a director with the DPA.

“How will this project revitalize the downtown?” he asked.

M’akalo Housing Society will be the owner and operator of the the non-profit housing.

M’Akalo Housing’s project manager Mark Christian spoke at the hearing explaining that they originally wanted to go up six storeys to accommodate the one, two and three bedrooms complex that will house 28 units.

“We have listened to the concerns and reduced it to five storeys.”

They are proposing to have commercial space on the ground floor with office space for M’akalo Housing Society. They have also been in talks with the South Okanagan Women in Need Society to move their office there.

SOWINS executive director Debbie Scarborough spoke at the hearing in favour of the housing project.

“The benefits far outweigh the negatives. This could meet the needs of our women and children. In this location, they don’t need a vehicle, it’s on a bus route. We could use one floor for our women,” she said.

Scarborough said the increased demands for their support and services has sharply increased during the pandemic.

M’akalo Housing said they would be open to looking at designing a ‘step back’ building that would give it a three-storey feel.

Also of concern is the parking, which in the official proposal listed 15 tuck-under spots for the proposed 28 residential units.

“We can discuss parking in the design phase,” Christian added.

The M’akola Housing Society noted that the lot is on a public transportation line, and that it is within walking distance to the library, groceries, banks, fitness and recreation, the farmers’ market, schools, and other amenities.

It is also a vacant flat site, with all utilities available, and an affordable option that would allow the society to offer reduced rents. Priority would go to Indigenous people.

M’akalo has affordable housing projects throughout B.C. and has been operating for more than 30 years.

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