Higher education in Kelowna zoomed to new heights Tuesday when city councillors voted overwhelmingly to approve the monumental 46-storey UBCO Downtown Campus.
To accomodate what would be the tallest building in Kelowna at 160 metres, city planners prepared a comprehensive development or CD28 zone, entitled appropriately UBC Downtown Campus, specifically designed for just that one unique purpose.
The proposed skyscraper would only occupy the southern portion of the former Kelowna Daily Courier property at the corner of Doyle Avenue and St. Paul Street, explained planner Trisa Atwood during her presentation to a public hearing on Tuesday evening. Mission Group is proposing a 30-storey residential tower and a 16-storey office tower to the north.
"It is not a zone, height or floor area ratio (FAR) that would normally be considered for a private-sector development," she said. The Official Community Plan has a list of six factors to be taken into consideration for taller buildings, including rental housing (students), post-secondary institutions and health/medical uses, and "this achieves all of those."
Eight academic floors would accommodate more than 200 nursing students, 80 social work students and 20-30 fine arts students in an art gallery. Adding faculty, teaching assistants, student services, medical centre staff, security and cafe employees would result in about 600 people in the building.
Upper floors would have 500 student housing units: most studios, but also two-bedroom units, for a total of 603 bedrooms. UBCO's main campus near Kelowna airport had a university housing waitlist of 800 students so added 440 beds. Then, the waitlist grew to 1,300 wanting on-campus housing, Lesley Cormack, UBCO principal and deputy vice-chancellor, told council.
With no provincial/federal funding, the intent is to "monetize" the housing rentals to pay for it through UBC Properties Trust, the applicant and developer. That is similar to student housing financing at the Point Grey campus, said Aubrey Kelly, trust CEO and president.
A 90-minute public-input session, both in-person and online, had 25 people expressing concern - mainly about the height - but also about council not following the OCP, creating urban heat islands and high-rise wind tunnels, fire protection, increased traffic, traffic gridlock, security, downtown crime and the negative impact of construction on nearby older buildings.
Students were among those supporting the proposal but there were also those accusing senior management of having a secret "slush fund" and "a track record of hiding information," concern about student rental rates and objecting to the loss of backyards downtown due to multi-family construction.
At the conclusion of discussion and a 35-minute council debate spread over more than three hours, councillors voted 8-1 in favour of the project with only Coun. Charlie Hodge opposed due to its height and traffic concerns.
As Mayor Colin Basran began speaking before the vote, a man in the public gallery started shouting. Basran responded, repeatedly: "Sir, you've had your opportunity." Then: "It's our turn to speak now. I'm going to ask you to please leave now. Please leave. Thank you. I appreciate your feedback." And then to council: "That's a first."
Echoing other councillor comments, Basran agreed council had tried to bring UBCO downtown for years and years.
"This is a dream for most municipalities to have this opportunity," he said.
"The fact that we're going to have well-educated faculty and students with incredible synergy, with that tech community, the Innovation Centre, with Interior Health across the street, supporting downtown businesses, supporting our local arts and culture. This is all part and parcel of building a progressive community which includes a great downtown core. (And) we have the third fastest growing downtown in the country only behind only Montreal and Halifax."