A 6,000-square-foot, marble-floored welcome centre is the crown jewel of an ambitious development project in the Okanagan Valley, but for now, the building isn’t welcoming anybody while a long-standing dispute between developer and regional district continues.
“Imagine you go into a municipal authority, apply for a building permit, be given one, spend $5-million on the building, and then when you’re finished they tell you the building is perfect, but you can’t use it,” said developer Mark Consiglio, owner of Kelowna Mountain Bridges and Vineyards.
“It just doesn’t seem Canadian.”
Mr. Consiglio is petitioning the Regional District of Central Okanagan in B.C. Supreme Court over how the land is being used.
The development falls within a rural land zone, which requires part of it to be used for agritourism. The developer said he’s not breaking any rules, and maintains the district’s definition of agritourism is “unintelligible.”
Equally convoluted is the project’s history, which includes a recent cease trade order from the B.C. Securities Commission that was lifted last week.
Kelowna Mountain is perched on a hillside overlooking Okanagan Lake on the outskirts of Kelowna, the Interior’s largest city.
Mr. Consiglio bought the land for $7.4-million shortly after the 2003 wildfire devastated the mountainside.
Mr. Consiglio says on the project’s website he walked through the barren forest after the fire and had a dream of building a multiuse park.
He said in an interview he wants to create something “that would take agritourism to the next level.”
In 2006, Mr. Consiglio unveiled his vision to turn three square kilometres into a $2-billion mega-resort with a ski hill, winery, golf course and 1,800 residential units.
The regional district maintains the developer has gone ahead with his plans for the resort, including building the welcome centre, ski lifts, four suspension bridges – including one boasted as the longest in North America – mountain bike trails and other amenities without addressing some significant concerns.
The city, too, has worries: Though the regional district has jurisdiction over the mountain, Rob Mayne with the city said that if the project renderings become a reality, it will affect the city’s water, sewage and road infrastructure.
“We’re hoping that the developer and the regional district can work together because we want to be involved because of the impacts on the city,” said Mr. Mayne.
In August, 2012, the B.C. Securities Commission issued a cease trade order against the company for failing to properly advise investors of “all of the required information about Kelowna Mountain.” A revised disclosure was issued in October, 2013, offering to buy back the investments of those who wanted out. Among other things, the new disclosure clarified earlier promotional material suggesting investors would receive a residential lot and golf membership in a resort-style community.
“As is described in the updated [offering memorandum], this is only one development scenario. Kelowna Mountain is not obligated to develop the property in this way or at all,” the developer states in his revised materials to investors.
“Large scale residential development is not currently permitted on the property and Kelowna Mountain has not submitted a complete application for the necessary rezoning for this type of development.”
Bernard Momer, an urban planning professor at the University of British Columbia Okanagan, said Mr. Consiglio is moving at an unusually quick pace.
“This [development] seems to be a little erratic in terms of, okay what exactly do you want to do? Last year, you wanted to do this, this year, you want to do that,” said Mr. Momer.
For his part, Mr. Consiglio is going to court to ask for clarification on what agritourism is. Rather than talk much about the regional district’s concerns, Mr. Consiglio held a news conference last week where he announced another phase to the project.
On Friday, he pledged “the world’s first wine park,” including a number of greenhouses, a two-kilometre canal and a promenade. Mr. Consiglio held the news conference in a cave on the property that has a chandelier hanging in the centre and a waterfall in the background.
Calvin Condy, a long-time resident of Kelowna, has visited the property several times, and said the district is putting up too much red tape.
“The list that they have is endless and they will never kind of be happy with what he’s done. They will always find more reasons to slow him down,” said Mr. Condy by phone from Kelowna. “Like give this guy a break. Look at what he’s doing. Look what he can create up here in Kelowna.”
Bruce Smith, communications officer with the regional district, wouldn’t comment on the particulars of the legal action, but said everything could be sorted out if district representatives could just sit down with the developer. Mr. Smith said they’ve asked for a meeting a number of times.
For now, both developer and district say they’re trying to communicate with few results. “But nothing has happened. We haven’t had a meeting. The property owner hasn’t taken us up on the offer,” said Mr. Smith.
And 10 years and $50-million into the lifespan of Kelowna Mountain, many residents like Mr. Momer still don’t know what it all means for Kelowna.
“Give me a plan for the next 15 years, and tell me exactly what you want to do, and then I can say whether it’s really good or bad, but I haven’t really seen that.”