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New West council votes 3-2 in support of affordable housing project

Aunt Leah’s Properties plans to build 90 units of affordable housing for young moms and youth transitioning out of foster care in the West End neighbourhood.
A preliminary rendering of the six-storey affordable housing project planned at 1923 and 1927 Marine Way in New West.

New Westminster city council has narrowly approved a plan that would allow an affordable housing project to be built in the West End.

At its July 8 meeting, city council voted 3-2 in support of three readings to a zoning amendment bylaw for 1923 and 1927 Marine Way, where Aunt Leah’s Properties plans to build a six-storey affordable housing project. It will provide about 90 units of affordable housing to youths and young mothers transitioning from the foster care system to independent living.

The two New Westminster Progressives’ councillors voted against the plan, fearing it could restrict future development for neighbouring properties.

A staff report said the rezoning application needed to receive third reading before July 12 for BC Housing to release funding to Aunt Leah’s Properties from its Community Living Fund.

“Given the site’s location in the 22nd Street station transit-oriented development area, staff is proposing to rezone the site to the minimum allowable height and density envisioned by the province (4.0 FSR and 12 storeys),” said the staff report. “This is higher than proposed by the applicant but would help align with the new legislation and provide opportunity, should additional funding be granted, to build additional affordable units on the site.”

The staff report stated a public hearing cannot be held regarding this application. That’s because municipalities are now prohibited from holding public hearings for projects that are consistent with the official community plan, and where the residential component of the project accounts for at least half of the proposed gross floor area.

Community input

At Monday’s meeting council received correspondence from residents regarding the application.

One resident wrote to the city expressing support for the project, saying affordable housing near transit is “desperately needed”, and this project can be a great first use of the new transit-oriented development zones.

Nine residents signed a petition asking the city to reconsider the proposal. In a letter accompanying the petition, the residents said they strongly oppose the development, saying it does not align with the higher density and taller buildings envisioned for transit-oriented development areas, limits the development potential of other sites on either side of the subject property, and could lead to lower property values of remaining homes on the block.

“Upon separation, some of the lots will fall outside the 200-metre transit-oriented development (TOD) zone, resulting in a decrease in the floor area ratio from 5.0 to 4.0,” said the letter.

Transit-oriented development areas have been divided into tiers that outline the type of development envisioned in those areas: Tier 1 (200 or less metres from stations) would allow up to 20 storeys; Tier 2 (200 to 400 metres from stations) would allow up to 12 storeys; and Tier 3 (400 to 800 metres from stations) would allow up to eight storeys.

Approved 3-2

At Monday night’s meeting, Mayor Patrick Johnstone and councillors Ruby Campbell and Nadine Nakagwa supported three rezonings of the zoning amendment bylaw, while councillors Daniel Fontaine and Paul Minhas voted in opposition.

Saying that the two sites are in the “dead centre of a potential land assembly” area, Fontaine voiced concern that the properties on the east and west sides of the Aunt Leah’s site would be “orphaned” if this project proceeds and may not be able to achieve their highest density.

Jackie Teed, the city’s director of planning and development, said there are five properties to the west and four properties to the east of the two subject sites.

“These properties are in the second ring of the transit-oriented development area, which is a 12-storey ring,” she said. “Staff considers that the remainder sites are developable under that expectation.”

Fontaine opposed the zoning bylaw amendment, saying it would restrict the amount of density that could go on the adjacent sites and may limit the ability to provide even more affordable housing than what’s currently being proposed.

Teed said she couldn’t speculate on future decisions of council in terms of what development it would consider for those sites.

“I can say that the transit-oriented development areas anticipate 12 storeys as the minimum. The 22nd station area plan is generally in alignment with that, where it's headed,” she said. “So, the official community plan would be in alignment with the 12 storeys, not the higher density. Staff’s expectation is that would be singling what the density expectations are in that area.”

Teed said B.C.’s new housing legislation prohibits council from turning down applications for reasons of height and density, as long as the applicant is only requesting up to what the province permits.

Minhas echoed Fontaine’s concern about the potential for creating “orphaned” properties. As examples, he cited individual sites in the downtown that have remained vacant or undeveloped for years.

The three council members who supported the application did not speak to the issue at Monday’s meting. Community First New West, however, sent out a press release on Wednesday regarding votes on several items at the July 8 meeting, including the Aunt Leah’s project.

“I have heard loud and clear from community members, and they want their elected officials to make affordable housing a priority now,” Campbell said in the news release. “When city councillors fail to support building 90 homes for youth and young mothers, they are sending a concerning message to the community.”

Campbell and Johnstone are both members of Community First, while Nakagawa is a former member who now sits as an independent. Other Community First councillors are Tasha Henderson, who did not attend the July 8 meeting, and Jaimie McEvoy, who is on medical leave.

Youth housing

In March, the province announced that Aunt Leah’s Properties’ application was one of 17 projects in Metro Vancouver being funded through the third intake of the Community Housing Fund.

Jacqueline Dupuis, executive director of Aunt Leah’s Properties, told the Record that the funding would help the non-profit purchase the sites on Marine Way and construct the building. She said the project would provide much-needed housing for youths who are aging out of foster care in B.C.

“We know that there's around 1,100 youths aging out of care in our province every year,” she said, adding that many youths aging out of foster care become homeless.