A 20-storey highrise slated to go up in the heart of downtown Kelowna got the official go-ahead last night.
Mission Group’s ELLA development received a largely enthusiastic approval from Kelowna City Council, despite a staff recommendation marked by some significant concerns.
The concrete highrise will sit on the corner of Lawrence Avenue and Ellis Street, and be the first significant residential development built in downtown Kelowna in more than a decade.
The tower will stretch a total 20 stories high and contain 116 condos, sitting atop a five-storey “podium” that houses an above-ground parking garage and ground-level retail space.
Although staff recommended council approve the development permit that will kickstart the project, several redesigns of the building failed to completely address all of staff’s concerns with the project.
The biggest sticking point was the building’s large podium.
Adam Cseke explained that the podium section of the building will have a “critical” impact on the public space around it.
Podiums that are too big, he said, can “overwhelm the public realm,” creating spaces that are uncomfortable for people on foot. They can also mess with people’s sense of scale, and cast oppressive shadows on the surrounding streets.
ELLA will sit on a relatively small lot, and Cseke says its podium will “create a sense of enclosure” along the street. Stretching more than 17 metres high, it will be visible for many blocks, including Bernard Avenue and Pandosy Street.
Staff made several suggestions to Mission Group on how to remedy the situation, including making the podium smaller, cutting down on the number of parking spaces in the parking garage, putting some parking underground and putting reflective surfaces on the exterior to help it better blend into the surroundings.
“Any of those suggestions would be appropriate, and would increase the quality of the project,” Cseke said. However, Mission Group did not take any of them.
Instead, the company went through a number of redesigns to help make the podium look more appealing.
Luke Turri, the vice president of development at Mission Group, explained how the final design his company and Kelowna city staff landed on features columns of white brick, recessed “windows” fitted with aluminum mesh, and other architectural features that help make the structure fell less oppressive.
Although the podium is largely composed of a parking garage, Turri said it’s designed to give the impression of “active space,” essentially that there’s not just cars parked in it.
Council’s few concerns with the project were whether or not the mesh and some of the large podium walls would be attractive enough.
Mayor Colin Basran also lightly chastised Mission Group for what he felt was its insistence on providing too much parking in a downtown development (Turri insisted all 147 parking stalls were vital to the building’s commercial success).
Members of council and the public also expressed concerns with how the building might impact future bike lanes, but city staff said those were considerations that could be taken into account at a later date.
Overall, however, the project was well received. All of council expressed its excitement at the prospect of new homes downtown, as well as the expanded sidewalks and retail opportunities on Lawrence and Ellis that will come with them.
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