More than 1,000 residents from across New Westminster have voiced their opposition to the construction of a six-storey apartment building on Sixth Street.
On Monday, residents presented city council with a petition signed by 1,004 residents, topping up a previously submitted petition signed by 108 residents. They’re opposed to a proposed official community plan amendment for the site at 823 to 841 Sixth St.
The Aboriginal Land Trust Society has applied for an amendment to the official community plan, a rezoning and a development permit as part of its plan to build a 96-unit, six-storey apartment building on six lots across the street from the new high school. The project would provide affordable, multigenerational and multicultural homes for members of the urban Indigenous and Swahili communities.
Lana Bordignon, who lives across the lane from the site, said a six-storey building in the middle of this residential block isn’t consistent with what was envisioned in the city’s official community plan.
“The campaign is not about opposing growth or development. It is asking that growth follow urban planning best policies, comply with the OCP and its guidelines and (development) not be allowed to take place in a haphazard manner,” she told council Monday night. “I urge you to please listen to the voices of concerned New Westminster residents … and stick to the official community plan.”
Glenbrooke North resident James Ogilvie also expressed concern the proposal is inconsistent with the OCP.
“A lot of taxpayer money and time, as well as community engagement effort, went into developing the OCP just a few years ago, as a tool to guide future development in the city,” he said. “A lot of people have bought or built houses in New Westminster with an understanding of future development plans in their neighbourhoods as outlined in the OCP.”
Ogilvie said a six-storey building at this location would be overbearing and doesn’t provide an appropriate transition from adjacent single-family homes.
“You will never see six-storey buildings directly across the lane from single-family homes,” he said. “It is not standard practice in urban development planning or anywhere else, and that’s why there is no such provision to allow this in the OCP without all of these amendment applications.”
Affordable housing supported
Ogilvie suggested the city should work with the proponent “to find a more suitable location for this important project” or to come up with an affordable housing development proposal for this site that’s more suitable and is consistent with the OCP.
“Council was just presented with a petition of over 1,000 signatures from local residents. This was not an online petition. This was not a link to be shared on social media. This was people walking door-to-door across the entire city during a global pandemic to drop off letters, and over 1,000 of their neighbours cared enough about the issue to walk or drive back across the city to return their ballots,” he said. “I hope the value of that effort is considered by council.”
Glenna Suffron said she agrees affordable housing is needed in New West, but projects should adhere to the land uses envisioned in the OCP.
“I have to say I am apprehensive about voicing my concerns,” she told council. “I’ve seen articles that have questioned people’s character regarding opposition to this project, and I don’t want my concerns to be misinterpreted or misrepresented. I am solely opposing an amendment to rezone to a six-storey building.”
Queen’s Park resident Teresa Clark said low-income housing could be built at the proposed location within existing zoning or with minimal variances by building duplexes, townhomes or rowhouses.
“Our opposition is simply about the proposed high-density, six-storey development and not the low-cost housing issue,” she said. “It wouldn’t matter if this were an assisted living facility, a rental apartment or a medical centre; the opposition would be the same. A six-storey development with 96 units is fundamentally wrong in this area and makes a mockery of the official community plan developed four short years ago, and all the work done by city staff and council and huge community input.”
Clarke said it’s a “travesty” that some residents in the 800 block of Fifth Street feel they have no recourse but to sell their homes “to escape this invasion of huge density” on their community.
“If this project goes through, every property owner in New Westminster needs to know that the official community plan means nothing, and everyone should be worried and wondering what your council will allow next,” she said. “It is not right to allow this very high, over-densified project to proceed on Sixth Street.”
Lynn Roxburgh, a senior policy planner with the city, said the project has been going through a development review process, which has included a preliminary report to council in December and an applicant-led consultation process. She said the applicant is now reviewing feedback from the community, the city’s design panel and city staff, and the next step is to go to the advisory planning commission.
“That’s been set now for March 16,” she said. “We have information on our website, beheardnewwest.ca, that talks about how to give feedback to that commission, which is a group of members of the public appointed by council that will make a recommendation to council about whether or not to support the project.”
After going to the advisory planning commission, Roxburgh said the applicant will have another opportunity to revise the application before making its final submission to the city. At that point, she said staff will present a comprehensive report to council that outlines all of the details of the application, any of the revisions that have been made and all of the feedback received about the application.