The tower project at 450 Martin St. in Penticton got a new lease on life when council voted this week to grant an extension to the start date for the project.
The project, which would see three 20-plus-storey towers rising over downtown Penticton, was originally approved in 2009, with an agreement that the developers would begin work on the first phase by December 2014.
The development has been on hold since it was discovered Transport Canada regulations would block construction of the towers, which would be in the Penticton airport flight path. A Transport Canada review of those height regulations is expected to take some time to complete, so the project proponents had requested a three-year extension to their agreement with the city.
A decision on the extension was deferred at council’s April 15 meeting, after some councillors questioned whether the project was still in keeping with the current vision of downtown development, while others were concerned that the developer had not sent a representative to present their arguments.
Architect Cal Meiklejohn began his presentation at Monday’s council meeting by apologizing for not making himself available at the previous meeting.
“We thought it was a fairly straightforward technical matter,” he said, adding they learned it is not out of the ordinary for Transport Canada to take a very long time to deal with a height review like this.
“We were starting to get very nervous, time is running out. We are hoping that council would agree with that approach and give us some time,” said Meiklejohn, who also pointed out there is a clause in the agreement with the city making the extension automatic in the case of unavoidable delays, including “governmental laws, regulations or controls.”
Coun. John Vassilaki questioned whether the developers would be ready to begin work quickly if Transport Canada were to change the regulations, cautioning Meiklejohn that council might not be lenient a third time around.
“It could well be that even if we got approval, we might come back and say we are not sure if the city is ready for this yet in terms of market analysis,” said Meiklejohn, admitting that the project might not go ahead as planned.
“Absorption rates in the city over the last couple of years are not what you would want them to be. I think there are many questions to be answered if Transport Canada was to say yes.”
During the April 15 discussion, some council members had wavered in their support for the project, including Vassilaki, who admitted supporting the project when it was first endorsed in 2009. But at this vote, only Coun. Wes Hopkin, who felt the towers would be too tall, voted to block the extension.
“We do have a contract with these folks. And the contract says that if in any way things happen because of government and their regulations, we would extend the time required for them to begin this project,” said Vassilaki. “Whether it is good for the downtown or not, that is the decision that was made then. We cannot arbitrarily change it.”