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'Do it for our city’s future': Kelowna council votes to keep Kelowna Springs as private recreational

It looks like the future of Kelowna Springs Golf Course will continue to operate as such for the time being

Kelowna City council has voted 8-1 to change the future land designation for 480 Penno Road from industrial back to private recreational.

City council heard from nearly 40 community members and about 30 of them were in favour of changing the property back to private recreational.

Tuesday night’s public hearing may have broken records. According to Stephen Fleming, the city clerk, more than 400 pieces of correspondence were submitted to the city.

“I think in my 20 years here this is the most we’ve ever received on one single application for public hearing,” Fleming told council.

“That breaks down to about 34 letters of opposition or concern and 172 letters of support.”

In attendance was Garry Fawley, CEO of Vancouver-based Denciti Group, the firm that wants to redevelop Kelowna Springs Golf Course into an industrial complex.

While addressing city council, Fawley said his group had preliminary intentions of keeping the golf course in operation for the time being.

“Denciti will support an amendment to the OCP under the terms of actually doing a split designation between recreational and industrial, that's our win-win way of trying to … create a solution that didn’t exist before,” Volodya Gusak, president of Denciti, explained.

“We believe that is the one way to ‘save’ Kelowna Spring Golf Course.”

<who> Photo Credit: Kelowna Springs Golf Course

Gusak said that if they were to preserve a nine-hole golf course, they would propose the split designation, subdivision and rezoning where the property would be half a golf course and half industrial.

Gusak told council and the public that they wanted to collaborate on this proposal because it would cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to carry out the plan and operate the golf course for the next season, something they would like to have a reason to do.

To accomplish that, the transition from the existing 18-hole course to a nine-hole course would have to happen within the next year and would require more input from council and the public.

However, this was not something the development group originally intended to do.

"We didn't buy a golf course, we bought industrial potential," Fawley told KelownaNow when we asked him about his plans for the 106 acre property in late February 2023.

About a year prior, in January 2022, Kelowna’s previous council formally adopted the 2040 Official Community Plan which designated Kelowna Springs as industrial.

That August, coun. Luke Stack brought forward a motion to change the land use back to private recreational. That original motion was defeated.

Shortly after Denciti Group spoke with KelownaNow about the land purchase, coun. Stack brought back the motion to Kelowna’s newly elected city council.

About a month later, on Mar. 21, Kelowna council agreed to send the controversial topic to a public hearing.

Many people in opposition to the proposed industrial land use pointed to environmental impacts, the impact of building on a so-called floor plain, and the loss of green space.

<who> Photo Credit: Kelowna Springs Golf Course

These were similar sentiments to coun. Stack who said large, flat, walkable green space was already limited and the community was losing natural green space and it was negatively affecting the quality-of-life for locals.

He maintained his stance during Tuesday’s meeting, noting that the land split proposed by Denciti was not what council was considering or there to discuss.

“The option is do we leave this property as future industrial land or do we turn it to its former designation which is private recreational,” Stack said, who pleaded with his council colleagues to focus on that as the starting point for debate.

Stack said city council could look at development proposals in the future when those discussions come up and the focus should solely be on future land use designation.

“I’m asking all of council to support this motion today,” Stack said.

“Do it for the citizens that have asked you to do it, do it for the trees, maybe you want to do it to preserve greenspace, maybe you want to do it to protect the neighbouring wetland and the animal and bird species that enjoy this area, maybe you want to do it protect the surrounding farmlands, perhaps you want to do it to protect the floodplain, maybe you want to even do it to help offset climate change. I don't know, do it mostly for our city’ future.”

Stack’s plea seemed to have an effect on his colleagues and the final vote was 8-1 to change the land use back to private recreational.

Coun. Wooldridge, who was the lone vote against the switch, noted that the property was still private land and it was not guaranteed it would continue to operate as a golf course.

Wooldridge said he had concerns about the process and argued that the developers should have been given more time to bring forward their vision for the development.

“There’s a lot of speculation around environment sensitivity, which I don’t disagree with, but no studies have actually been done and where I have a lot of friction is the landowner requested six months to do these studies and come forward with a plan and that wasn’t accepted,” said Wooldridge, who proposed the public hearing be held in October to allow for that.

“So, we’re here today, we rushed the process and we’re responding to the public, but it's not a full baked plan.”

Although the future land use designation has been changed, it is not guaranteed that the golf course will continue to operate as such for the long-term.

Mayor Tom Dyas concluded the discussion that the vote did not mean Kelowna Springs was saved forever – agreeing with coun. Wooldridge that the process was rushed.

Dyas said the future was still unclear and that it will be up to the landowners to decide what the future of 480 Penno Road will ultimately be.

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