Plans to revitalize downtown Summerland through the Wharton Street Redevelopment Plan remain viable, but could undergo changes that may not need the stamp of public approval.
Manager of Development Services Ian McIntosh said the district remains in discussion with a group of out-of-town investors, who have shown interest in developing the site.
By way of background, the Wharton Street Redevelopment Plan calls for the construction of a seven-storey, multi-use building in the heart of the downtown core.
The building as currently proposed seeks to accomplish two goals — increase residential density in the downtown core and expand public amenities in improving library and museum space. But the project — which featured a complex land sale agreement between the district and the private developer, Mike Rink of New Futures Development Group, and several public hearings — became the victim of the financial crisis that began in 2008.
The plan formally expired on Jan. 15 of this year, when Rink let that deadline to purchase the land from the district pass.
But the project has remained on the radar screen of the development community. At least two groups expressed interest to the district during the late spring of this year and one of them — McIntosh refused to disclose its identity, citing municipal legislation concerning the sale of public lands — actually signed a memorandum of understanding to secure exclusive negotiations rights for a period of 90 days. About half of this period remains.
While McIntosh called the negotiations thus far “very promising,” his comments also suggested that an eventual agreement might well feature changes to the actual project.
“They (the group) are looking to make some adjustments to the plan,” he said.
While McIntosh refused to answer specific questions about the nature of the requested changes, he noted that the interested parties wants to make the project “more economically feasible.”
One possible interpretation: the developers wish to scale back some or all elements of the project including the public components to make it fit current market conditions.
This said, the district has some specific requirements as well. “Our objections are still the same,” said Don DeGagne, municipal administrator June 1 in the online edition of the Review. “We need to get certain public facilities (library and museum). That will be part of any deal.”
And if there is a deal that features changes to the components of the project, the public may not get chance to comment.
If specific design elements change, but not to the degree that the requested changes no longer conform to the established zoning for the site established several years before the previous developer pulled out, the district will not be obliged to ask for public input. A formal public process will be necessary, if significant changes are necessary.
McIntosh said it is too early to tell, which way this issue will go.
The public, however, will have a chance to comment on the land sale that would accompany the project if it gains a new lease on life.