A new retirement resort is on the way for Penticton, but it didn’t get through the city’s approval process without controversy.
Southwood, a new retirement resort from the same people that created the Sandbridge gated community almost two decades ago, will be sited on the corner of Wilson and Yorkton, occupying what is currently the Waterworld RV park.
“Eighteen years ago, our company, Canadian Adult Communities, came and talked to you about building Sandbridge Retirement community, which is in the immediate vicinity,” said Ed Hall, of what is now Regency Retirement Resorts. “That was our last time down in Penticton and we have been excited to return.”
The controversy arises from Hall’s request to have the retirement resort included under the economic investment zone bylaw, under the tourism, sport and cultural zones. That would qualify the project for about a $500,000 tax break and a 50 per cent discount on building permit fees, to the tune of $150,000. Nine previous projects in the city have qualified for similar incentives under the bylaw.
Most of council supported extending the tax break to Regency, feeling that if the resort wasn’t built, there would be no new taxes at all. But the oldest councillor, John Vassilaki, and the youngest, Wes Hopkin, argued instead that this was tantamount to a taxpayer subsidy for the Southwood project.
Hall justified the request, which was supported by city planning staff, by stating his view that the project is a resort like any other, sharing many of the same components in the way of staffing, amenities and activities.
“Why do you go to a golf resort? You go to a golf resort to enjoy golf. Why do you go to a retirement resort? You go to a retirement resort to enjoy retirement,” said Hall, whose company has completed four similar projects. “We’re very committed to creating an environment where you can get people engaged, enriched and involved in their retirement.”
Regency plans to build a 159-unit condo style resort, with a range of amenities for the residents, like a theatre, fine dining, rooftop garden, fireside lounges, billiard rooms, etc., with the common area making up about 30 per cent of the structure.
Hall’s estimates put the cost to build Southwood at about $25 million, and once up and running it will have about 50 full time employees, with a payroll of about $1.25 million. Another $1.25 million is expected to be spent purchasing goods and services annually.
“It’s not a large amount of money in terms of this project, but it is a large amount in terms of the city,” said Hopkin, who felt the $650,000 in taxes and fees was too small an incentive to make or break a $25- million project. He felt the project was likely to go ahead even without the incentive.
“That is what is at debate, do we think this project would go ahead if we didn’t give this incentive? If we think it would have gone ahead anyways, then we are out $500,000,” said Hopkin.
Hopkin and Vassilaki were outvoted by the rest of city council, which voted in favour of both approving the development permit for Regency and amending the Economic Investment Zones Bylaw to include retirement resorts.