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Revitalization plans for troubled Kelowna city block hit roadblock

Click to play video '‘I don’t think the severity of the situation on Leon is being taken into consideration’: proposed tower on troubled downtown Kelowna street rejected' ‘I don’t think the severity of the situation on Leon is being taken into consideration’: proposed tower on troubled downtown Kelowna street rejected

It’s a revitalization project most would agree is badly needed.

The 200 block of Leon Avenue in downtown Kelowna has been on a downward spiral for years.

Businesses which once thrived there are long gone, and the block is now better known for being the epicentre of a growing homeless population. Last year, it became home to a large tent city.

Read more: Pressure mounts for City of Kelowna to act in wake of growing tent city

Enter a North Vancouver developer, who is proposing a large development project to improve the area.

His plans, though, have already hit a roadblock despite them being in the early stages.

“I don’t think the severity of the situation on Leon is being taken into consideration,” Anthony Beyrouti of Orchard Park Properties told Global News.

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“You have the worst block in the entire downtown core, the city is paying hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to keep it clean, to maintain it. We’re just asking for a little bit of assistance in helping us create something beautiful for the city.”

Beyrouti is proposing to build three towers.

Two would feature commercial and residential use on the north side of Leon Avenue. The third would be a short-term rental building on the site of a former car sales lot at Leon and Water Street.

Click to play video 'Residents in a large Kelowna mobile home park face evictions after the site was sold to a developer' Residents in a large Kelowna mobile home park face evictions after the site was sold to a developer
Residents in a large Kelowna mobile home park face evictions after the site was sold to a developer

Beyrouti was before council on Monday, seeking a text amendment to the city’s newly created short-term rental policy to pave the way for the short-term rental tower.

But the majority of council rejected the request, sending the developer back to the drawing board.

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“If the people in the community don’t want the project, we totally understand,” Beyrouti said. “We don’t need to build a project, but, from what we heard from people, people really want something built there.

“It’s something that people reached out uncalled for and asked for. They call me and say ‘Hey, I would love this project, we really want you to build it here, it will totally change the entire area’”

But city council was unwilling to bend and decided not to allow for any amendments.

“It’s contrary to our new short-term rental policy and we aren’t prepared to deviate from that plan right now because it’s such a new policy and we are seeing positive benefits as a result,” said Kelowna mayor Colin Basran.

Read more: Kelowna cracking down on short-term rentals

The new short-term rental policy was created to prevent owners from evicting tenants during lucrative summer seasons.

Short term rentals are now only allowed if the residence is the owner’s principal dwelling.

“The owner must live there for the majority of the year in order for it to be utilized as a short-term rental,” Basran said.

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“What we’re trying to do is by having that rule, we’re trying to stop tenants from being evicted from properties so that the owners then utilize it for potentially more lucrative, short-term rentals, particularly in the summer season.”

Basran also cited a number of other concerns for rejecting the amendment request, including the potential for conflicts between neighbours.

Click to play video '“This changes the whole feel of the neighbourhood,” concerns being raised about development proposal slated for the South Pandosy area in Kelowna' “This changes the whole feel of the neighbourhood,” concerns being raised about development proposal slated for the South Pandosy area in Kelowna
“This changes the whole feel of the neighbourhood,” concerns being raised about development proposal slated for the South Pandosy area in Kelowna

“What if somebody is wanting to be a long-term tenant there and the unit next-door is being utilized for short-term rentals and people who are coming and going and partying and making a lot of noise,” said Basran.

“It just creates a lot of conflict.”

While Basran said council has a real appetite to improve that stretch of Leon, he said the potential problems from a predominantly short-term rental building are not worth it in the long run.

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“Of course we would love to see Leon Avenue cleaned up and revitalized absolutely, but not at any cost,” Basran stated.

Read more: ‘Eco-density’ construction changing face of downtown Kelowna

As for the developer, when and if he comes back to council with another proposal remains to be seen.

“The math needs to make sense,” Beyrouti said. “We have to make it so I’m not building this to file for bankruptcy right after I build it.”

The mayor hopes the city can work with the developer to come up with a solution.

“I believe that this developer has a great reputation of wanting to work with staff, wanting to work with council,” said Basran, “and I really think that we can work together with him to find something to balance all of the needs of the community.”