2,000-Unit McKinley Beach Development Proposal: Boon or Bust for Kelowna?

2,000-Unit McKinley Beach Development Proposal: Boon or Bust for Kelowna?
July 8, 2024

Kelowna City Council is set to weigh a controversial proposal for a massive development in McKinley Beach. The project, if approved, would transform the area with an estimated 2,000 new residential units and a mixed-use urban village. However, the sheer scale and location outside the city's designated growth boundary raise concerns about infrastructure, traffic, and environmental impact.

Project Details

The applicant envisions a significant increase in residential density and commercial activity in McKinley Beach, exceeding the approved limit of 1,300 dwellings. The proposed development area spans a vast 671 acres, encompassing a mix of land with varying development challenges:

  • Developable Land Assessment: Not all 671 acres will be suitable for construction. Factors like steep slopes, environmentally sensitive areas, and potential Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) restrictions will limit the actual developable area. Detailed studies would be required to determine the usable land and its suitability for different housing types (single-family homes, townhouses, condos).
  • Mixed-Use Urban Village Concept: The proposal includes a mixed-use urban village, likely centered around commercial establishments serving the new residents. The specifics of the commercial offerings (retail stores, restaurants, offices) would depend on further planning and market research.
  • Density and Housing Mix: The proposal targets 2,000 residential units, but the density and housing mix (single-family homes, townhouses, condos) would significantly impact the project's environmental and infrastructural demands. Higher density development with a mix of housing types would likely be more efficient in terms of infrastructure usage and land use, but it might not be what the applicant envisions.

OCP Misalignment

A significant hurdle is the McKinley Beach area's designation within the Official Community Plan (OCP). It falls outside the Permanent Growth Boundary (PGB) and isn't flagged for future growth in the current OCP. This proposal signifies a departure from the OCP's objectives and policies, potentially conflicting with the associated Transportation Master Plan (TMP) and the 20 Year Servicing Plan. The TMP and Servicing Plan outline strategies for growth within the designated areas, and this project would necessitate revisions to those plans to accommodate the additional infrastructure needs.

Numbers and Reasons Behind the Proposal

This isn't the first time development plans have emerged for McKinley Beach. In July 2021, council rejected a similar application for 1,300 units spread over a larger area with a dedicated park space.

The applicant for the current proposal argues two key points:

  1. Underestimated Housing Needs: They believe the OCP underestimates Kelowna's future housing demand due to population growth. Kelowna's population is projected to reach 243,000 by 2040, a 28% increase from 2021, potentially straining housing supply. The applicant likely sees this project as a way to address the anticipated housing shortage.
  2. Land Use Misalignment: The applicant contends there's a mismatch between housing locations and employment centers. McKinley Beach residents might have longer commutes to jobs concentrated in the Gateway area. The mixed-use urban village concept could potentially include some office space to mitigate commutes, but a significant number of residents would likely rely on cars to reach major employment hubs.

City Staff Cautious, Infrastructure Costs a Concern

City planning staff recommend early consideration to avoid wasting the applicant's resources on detailed studies if council ultimately rejects the proposal. However, they acknowledge numerous potential issues that would require extensive technical studies to determine the short- and long-term impacts. Here's a breakdown of key concerns:

Traffic Congestion

The development is anticipated to significantly worsen traffic flow, similar to challenges faced in Upper Mission, which has around 18,000 residents. Kelowna already struggles with rush hour congestion, and this project could exacerbate the problem. Upgrading existing roads or building new ones to handle the influx of vehicles would be a significant cost.

Strained Infrastructure

While initial assessments suggest there aren't insurmountable utility infrastructure hurdles, servicing the development is expected to be expensive for both the applicant and the city. Studies using tools like ModelCity indicate that even with higher density options, development in McKinley Beach would likely result in less revenue than needed to cover long-term infrastructure demands. This could lead to a strain on city resources and potentially higher taxes for residents.

Environmental Impact Assessment Needed

Studies would be required to assess the potential impact on hillsides, sensitive ecosystems, and wildlife corridors within the 671-acre development area. Kelowna has a number of protected species and ecosystems, such as the White-headed Woodpecker and Ponderosa Pine forests. Development could threaten their survival and disrupt natural habitats. Additionally, stormwater management would be crucial to prevent erosion and environmental damage on the hillsides.

Community Opposition and Next Steps

The Kelowna Climate Coalition (KCC) has already voiced strong opposition to the proposal. They argue that approving early consideration is premature given the significant issues identified by city staff and the long lifespan of the previously approved development for the area (1,300 units over the next two decades). They believe the focus should be on infill development within the designated growth boundary and exploring ways to improve existing infrastructure before considering such large-scale projects on the periphery.

The council will review the application on July 8, 2024. Their decision will determine whether the proposal advances to a full development application process. This process would involve further in-depth studies, public consultation, and a potential public hearing before a final decision is made. Public consultation would be a critical opportunity for residents to voice their concerns and suggestions regarding the project.

Balancing Growth and Sustainability

The McKinley Beach development proposal presents a complex dilemma for Kelowna. While the city grapples with housing shortages, sprawling development on the outskirts can strain infrastructure, harm the environment, and create car-dependent communities. Council's decision will be crucial in determining whether this project fosters sustainable growth or becomes a future burden for Kelowna.

Additional Considerations

  • Impact on Existing Residents: The influx of new residents could strain capacity at existing schools, community centers, and healthcare facilities. The project would need to address how these existing services would be expanded to accommodate the growing population.
  • Financial Viability for the Applicant:  The applicant would be responsible for significant upfront costs associated with studies, infrastructure upgrades, and construction.  Whether the project generates sufficient revenue to offset these costs and provide a return on investment would be a major factor in its ultimate success.
  • Alternative Development Approaches: Council could consider exploring alternative development approaches for McKinley Beach that prioritize higher density, mixed-use development, and a strong focus on sustainable practices to minimize environmental impact.

The McKinley Beach development proposal will undoubtedly generate significant debate in Kelowna. As the city grapples with growth and housing needs, careful consideration of all potential implications will be essential in making a decision that serves the best interests of the community for the long term.

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