A 44-storey tower project that includes a 138-room hotel is being proposed in downtown New Westminster.
At its March 27 meeting, council received a preliminary report regarding a rezoning and special development permit for 809 to 811 Carnarvon St. and 60 to 70 Eighth St. The development site is located at Eighth and Carnarvon, across the street from Douglas College and just north of the New Westminster SkyTrain station.
A staff report stated the proposed development includes 469 stratified condo units, a 6,701-square-metre (72,135-square-foot) hotel and 746 square metres (8,034 square feet) of at-grade retail space. The applicant is also proposing 411 parking spaces, which is a 22 per cent reduction from the 526 that are required.
The commercial space is proposed on Eighth and Carnarvon streets and the 44-storey residential tower would be situated on the north side of the site and have a lobby facing Agnes Street. The hotel, which would be in a six-storey part of the project that faces Carnarvon Street, is proposed to include reception, bar, lounge, food and fitness centre services.
The applicant is currently in discussions with operators but expects the space would accommodate a “select service hotel” typically seen in hotel chains such as the Marriott or Hyatt, said the report.
“As application review proceeds, additional analysis would be considered which would evaluate the level of benefit a hotel use would offer to the community, how that benefit could be maximized through different hotel services, and confirm the level to which such a use could be considered in regards to consideration as an amenity contribution,” said the report.
In a report to council, staff stated the additional density and height were reasonable based on preliminary economic analysis related to a hotel. The report said the project is consistent with proposals in the area (where 32-, 40- and 33-storey buildings have been approved or are being proposed) and would help the city achieve its strategic priority of providing hotel units in a downtown close to transit and Anvil Centre.
According to staff, the city’s density bonusing policy anticipates a building height of 240 feet (about 24 storeys) on subject sites, so this proposal exceeds the anticipated density by 52 per cent and the height by about 20 storeys (or 83 per cent). However, the density bonus policy allows the city to consider applications that exceed anticipated height and density “in the case of unique and exceptional circumstance, including the provision of amenities addressing city strategic priorities.”
Go even higher?
Coun. Daniel Fontaine said he’s excited about the prospect of having another hotel in downtown New Westminster. He questioned if there’s been any consideration of allowing the building to go higher than 44 storeys if it means the city could get additional funds for amenities, such as green space or a pocket park, that would benefit the downtown neighbourhood.
“I consider the hotel a great amenity to the downtown, but there are a lot of other things that need to be constructed,” he said.
Mike Watson, acting supervisor of development planning, said additional density could be an option, when balanced with other priorities.
“It's important to note that when you're doing looking at amenity contributions, costs for developers also go up as buildings go up. And there's a point of diminishing returns at some point,” he told council. “But, you know, through our process with the applicant, we'll certainly be looking at other opportunities to achieve city strategic priorities, including open space and potential housing options as well.”
Watson said staff will continue to work through the economic analysis of the hotel amenity to determine if there's an opportunity for additional amenity contributions.
“Awesome,” said Fontaine. “Because that's what I'd be looking at is the kind of amenity-plus-an-amenity, going higher on the residential tower and being able to do some work there.”
Fontaine said that particular block of Carnarvon Street is “very concrete-heavy” and it doesn't have a lot of sunlight or green space.
“I don't know if it's feasible, going up perhaps a little bit higher on the hotel, pulling back and opening up a little bit more green space on Carnarvon?” he said.
Fontaine asked staff how long it would take to get from this point to the opening of the hotel and completion of the project.
“Timelines are always difficult to predict, especially with complex applications like this. There are a number of factors outside of staff's control as well and the city's control,” Watson said. “Typically, a complex rezoning application like this could take a year to 18 months. Staffing impacts, staffing shortages, have had an impact on some of those timelines recently. And then construction is upwards of three years for construction as well. So it's a number of years.”
According to the report, this application was presented to the city’s land use and planning committee on Oct. 1, 2018.
Mayor Patrick Johnstone said the area around Eighth and Carnarvon streets may be the busiest pedestrian corner in the city twice a day, when there is a constant flow of students going between the New Westminster SkyTrain station and Douglas College, as well as residents of the uptown and Brow of the Hill neighbourhoods going to the station. He said it would be very important to protect the pedestrian realm during construction, if the project is ever approved.
“But I do want to say I am excited to hear that there is somebody willing to invest in building a hotel space in New Westminster again. This has been a longstanding desire of the city, both economic development and just a basic community amenity that we've been overdue for trying to find,” he said.
Coun. Jaimie McEvoy said that increasing the downtown’s population has always been viewed as the way to help revitalize the neighbourhood. He noted that one of the reasons the city built the Anvil office tower was to bring more of a daytime population into the area to support cafés and other businesses.
“Without prejudging a proposal that might come to public hearing, but on the general concept of a hotel, I think that it has good potential,” he said. “I would want to see a bit of analysis from the professionals on that.”
No public hearing?
At its March 27 meeting, council directed staff to work with the applicant to prepare a development plan that is suitable for consideration of first and second readings. Council also directed staff to proceed with processing the proposed rezoning of the subject properties.
In addition, council approved a staff recommendation that no public hearing be held for this application, in accordance with the Local Government Act.
“Given the size of the application, staff would undertake city-led public consultation prior to forwarding the application to council for consideration,” said the report.
According to the report, at that time, staff would evaluate whether the application is consistent with the city’s principles for determining when a project does not require a public hearing, which includes an application that: is largely consistent with city policy and/or council strategic priorities, and/or exceeds city policy in support of council’s strategy priorities; responds to feedback from the public and staff, even if significant, to the satisfaction of the city’s director of climate action, planning and development; and is consistent with the official community plan.
“Should the project not meet these principles, staff would recommend to council that a public hearing be held,” said the report. “Council continues to have the option, at the start of consideration of the bylaws, to refer the application to public hearing at council’s discretion.”
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