Hodge: More questions than answers on Cedar Ave options

I smell a skunk in the woodpile.…Is this a charrette or a charade?

Before February has ended, the City of Kelowna will have played host to another charrette designed to create a plan for the future use of the waterfront property at Cedar Avenue.

That process, however, is already under the microscope of public scrutiny and has inspired a fair amount of raised eyebrows. Rightfully so.

I smell a skunk in the woodpile.

While I am not opposed to a charrette process in theory, I do have serious concerns when a supposed open-minded planning process for the community is not really an open process or even open-minded.

It seems to me that there is little transparency or open-minded thinking when questions asked or criteria set for surveys will only result in providing the answers desired.

The Cedar Avenue beach development caused significant debate at City Hall some two years ago. Numerous Cedar Avenue area residents voiced concerns, as did the majority of neighbourhood association members.

At the top of the list of concerns was: Should a commercial building be allowed or should the 11 properties involved be simply kept as park land?

Suggestions included a walkway, possible restaurant, and a commercial building of at least two storeys.

Council back then, which I was a part of, was torn over the debate.

Many residents insisted the site had long been tagged for future park use.

Now, it seems, the current council may have lost site of the real issue and the supposed open-minded process is really not so open-minded.

The current council endorsed a set of eight project parameters or guidelines for the redevelopment planning. Among the eight are:

• Paddle Centre—Accommodate Kelowna Paddle Centre within redevelopment scenarios, including up to 5,000 square feet of space.

• Financial Viability—Complete the development with no additional tax impact .

• Park—Incorporate a park and waterfront walkway as an integral part of the site.

• Timing—Complete public engagement and any required rezoning by the fall of 2014.

The wording of those parameters sparks concerns.

I am pleased to see the site being used by the Kelowna Paddle Centre for canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, etc., and I understand its members are currently using one of the property homes as a headquarters.

However, their use of the city property was quietly granted without council consent (that I am aware of), so I’m surprised there is an assumption that the group will apparently continue there and take an active role in the future planning charrette when no public process or concurrence has taken place.

Regarding taxes, the city mandate is to “complete the development with no additional tax impact.” Give me a break. That mandate pretty much eliminates a park-only plan.

“Incorporate a park and waterfront walkway as an integral part of the site.” Integral? How about the point of the site, not just a part of.

“Complete public engagement and any required rezoning by the fall of 2014.” Since council and staff had two years to get around to this issue, a public process and then rezoning by the end of the fall of this year seems a bit rushed. Is this a way of avoiding it becoming a controversial election issue? Hmmm….

So, later this month a group of 30 people will sit down and discuss the plan, based on the criteria already established for the property by staff and apparently approved by council. Charrette members will also be asked to consider the input the public has given on an online website.

The wheels on this wagon are weak and wobbly.

Of the 30 spots for charrette members, 25 were appointed by staff, while only five were left open for interested members of the public. At the time of this column’s crafting, more than 50 people had applied to be among those five members.

The website is filled with lots of pretty pictures and cutesy questions, but none of them ask one key question: Do you support a commercial building on the site?

The website asks residents to choose answers on a variety of issues and encourages input on lots of fluff—but nothing about being opposed to a building which was really the main concern.

All of which to me begs the questions: Is there a company or developer already involved with the site?

I had to chuckle when reading one of the comments which suggested folks might like to see a dog park component at the site.

During my three years on council, I tried several times to have a dog park established near the lake  anywhere in Kelowna and the majority of staff and council at the time would not give the concept a sniff of sincere interest—despite the interest of many residents.

Suddenly, it is tossed in as a possibility. (I’ll bet my baseball card collection the dog-park idea never sees the light of day).

Concerns over this project are more than just the assumption that there will be a commercial component. Other assumptions of note worth asking include:

• Who has actually selected the charrette members?

• If this is truly a public process why is the session closed to the public, including media who supposedly represent the public?

• What are they hiding or afraid of having the public hear?

• Why is this planned charrette only discussing the seven properties on the north side of Cedar Avenue and not also the four properties on the south side of the road?

Surely a long-term future plan for the overall site should involve the overall site in total, not piecemeal.

What does staff have in mind for the other four sites? What’s up with that?

Under the current formula there are simply too many assumptions and gimmies involved already to persuade me this is truly an open and public process.

Is this a charrette or a charade?

Kelowna Capital News