Penticton council sours on proposed highrise development

Developer fails to show for public hearing on 23-storey residential and commercial complex

A public hearing held Monday evening may have to be done over, after Penticton council took issue with the absence of the project’s proponents.

The subject of the hearing was a three-year extension to a phased development agreement to build a 23-storey residential and commercial complex at 450 Martin St. The original agreement, signed in 2009, gave the developers five years to embark on the first phase of the development and 10 years to begin the final phase.

“I am quite disappointed that the proponents of this project aren’t here today. They are asking for a final term of 13 years and I would hate to see that big huge hole on Martin Street for 13 years. To me it is unacceptable,” said Coun. John Vassilaki, who wanted more information about possibly speeding up the project or lowering the maximum height. “If they were here, at least they would show some interest to what city council is thinking. It would have been a lot easier for me to make a decision.”

Though the agreement is due to expire in 2014, work has not started on the project after it was discovered in 2010 that the proposed height of the project exceeded Transport Canada’s height zoning regulations for the Penticton airport. Transport Canada is currently reviewing those height requirements, but that review may take three years to complete.

While the developers were not present at the meeting, two opponents of the project were there to speak, concerned about the 23-storey building, which also exceeds the building heights set in Penticton’s official community plan.

“I can certainly appreciate why the developer is seeking the extension. I believe that rejection of this extension is in the public interest,” said Denis O’Gorman, adding that a project that is more realistic and more scale appropriate and gives more consideration to the pedestrian streetscape should be pursued instead.

David Ure, who owns property across the street from the site, was concerned both about the planned height of the building and the length of time it would take to finish the project.

“It’s been going on long enough, we don’t want an extension that this will go on forever. What guarantees have we got that this isn’t going to happen again?” asked Ure.

“I am sure there is no one here that would want to have construction going on across from their house for years to come.”

Coun. Wes Hopkin was also concerned about the height of buildings, saying that the vision for Penticton’s downtown had changed since the agreement was signed and that he would prefer to see a project more in keeping with the vision developed through the downtown revitalization process.

“In effect by saying no to this amendment, we are saying no to this project,” he pointed out.

With no one to speak for the project, acting mayor Garry Litke suggested that council postpone their decision and invite the proponents to a future council meeting, though that would mean another public hearing on the same topic.

“I am hearing some consternation around this table about granting this extension,” said Litke. “I am hearing the council being pretty grumpy about this right now. It is a fairly significant decision, so maybe we should be careful.”