The City of Kelowna is looking to make a massive investment in city parks.
Council gave its preliminary support yesterday to a plan that would see the city collect an extra $5 million a year specifically to buy and develop new parks within city limits.
The vote came on the heels of a staff report that showed the city close to $200 million behind in developing land it has set aside for parks into actual parks.
Over the last seven years, the report says, the city has spent an average of $2.9 million a year on parks. For it to properly develop all of the bare land into actual parks city staff say the city would need to dramatically increase that number, to $8.4 million a year.
Coun. Ryan Donn said the disparity is shocking.
“The fact that we’re spending (a few million) per year on park development and we need to go up a lot more is quite shocking. I think people would be quite shocked,” he said. “We’ve got a (more than $100 million) deficit, we spend (a few million) currently, that obviously needs to be fixed.”
City staff recommended a “pragmatic” approach to the problem.
Its solution would see the city raise approximately 61 per cent of its $8.4 million target through a combination of development cost charges levied on new developments and a new “infrastructure levy” the city is considering adding to municipal tax bills.
The plan would also see revenues from existing parks kicked in.
Staff said this approach “shares the load between the development community and general taxation, with additional support from parks generated revenues.”
City staff recognized long ago Kelowna was falling behind in its ratio of parkland to residents. For years, the city has been using most of its parks budget to buy land it will eventually develop into proper parks.
That means it’s preserving bare land now so in the future the city will have all the parkland it needs. However, this has meant less left over to actually build the parks themselves, leading to lots of “parkland” remaining bare for long stretches.
Coun. Brad Sieben called out this problem, pointing out that some communities were having to raise money themselves to see parkland in their neighbourhoods developed.
He said that kind of thing is “unacceptable,” and that the city “needs to do better” developing the parkland it buys in a timely manner, so people can see the parks they were promised before their kids grow up.
Coun. Charlie Hodge took a different approach, saying he was happy to continue prioritizing buying land because that land will only get more expensive as time goes on, and it makes sense to get it at a better price.
The funding option council said it prefers would see the city’s acquisition budget stay the same, but would pump a lot more cash into developing the land the city already has.
In its report to council, staff acknowledged the argument that new charges for developers could chill development in the city, but said having better and more parks could act as incentives of their own for developers.
During their discussion, councillors stressed the need for flexibility with the funding plan, especially as they present it to the public and the development community.
Coun. Gail Given said the city should offer developers a way to get credit towards the DCCs by including parks as part of their private projects.
“Honestly that’s how parks are going to get built,” she said, pointing out that private companies can get things done much more quickly than city government.
Now that council has given the plan it blessing, staff will move forward with consultation, before coming back to council for official approval.
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