Wilden Village Centre

The Wilden master-planned community in Kelowna is planning a village centre with more housing, shops, restaurants, plaza and elementary school.

The future construction of 1,500 suburban homes in Kelowna got a renewed green light Monday from city council.

Councillors reversed a December decision that would have removed considerable development potential in the Wilden, Kirschner Mountain, and Black Mountain neighbourhoods.

It's important the city live up to planning agreements made years ago with developers to permit the new housing, councillors said.

"I believe we have an ethical obligation to follow through on the business arrangements we've made," said Coun. Loyal Wooldridge.

"When the city's made a commitment, we need to honour it," said Coun. Gail Given. "To step away from those commitments can have a destabilizing impact on your community."

In December, council voted 5-4 in support of a 20-year plan to require 81 per cent of new Kelowna homes to be built in urban areas, with just 19 per cent in suburban areas.

The rationale was that more urban development promoted city objectives like increased transit use, greater proximity between homes and shops and services, and efficient use of municipal infrastructure.

Since December, municipal planning staff have worked out what that plan would actually mean in terms of curtailing new home construction in the suburbs.

Their analysis showed Wilden would lose 700-900 future homes, Black Mountain would lose 250-350 future homes, and Kirschner Mountain would lose 350-450 new homes.

Those builders, with the support of the Urban Development Institute and the chamber of commerce, lobbied vigorously against the proposed changes.

Mayor Colin Basran, who in December voted in favour of restricting suburban development, said Monday he had changed his mind. The December decision had been taken without council fully knowing what it would actually mean in terms of closing off suburban land previously identified for housing, and without the necessary consultation, Basran said.

Basran said he still favoured most of Kelowna's future growth taking place in urban areas, and he expected that would occur.

"Without question cities need to be built differently than they have in the past," Basran said.

The long-range plan approved Monday by council essentially re-sets the 20-year housing split to allow 33 per cent of new housing to be built in suburban areas. That still represents a significant reduction from today's housing profile, as almost half of all Kelowna homes are considered to be suburban in nature.

"This does represent a continual chain to a new and different type of city," Coun. Luke Stack said. "In my opinion, it's very visionary."

More public and industry consultation is planned in the months ahead.