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New West highrise gets thumbs up from city council

Thumbs down from area residents

New Westminster city council has unanimously approved a development permit for the first residential tower at the Brewery District development.

Wesgroup Properties applied for a development permit that would allow it to build a 15-storey residential building with 115 units at 200 Nelsons Cres. A debate has raged in Sapperton for months, with many residents voicing concern that the tower being proposed is taller than what residents were led to believe would be built at the site.

Sapperton resident John Hislop said the Wesgroup’s decision to lower the building height from 18 to 15 storeys is a step in the right direction but doesn’t go far enough. He said it’s a departure from the nine-storey building originally proposed on the site and later increased to 12 storeys.

Jim Hurst, a development planner with the city, said the consultation process lasted for about eight months in 2006 and 2007. He said the project changed from what was proposed at the beginning of the process to what was approved during the rezoning, including the provision of commercial spaces, such as a grocery store, in the early stages of the development.

“We tied that commercial service to the density that was on the site,” he said. “Between the last meeting in 2006 and the meeting held in May 2007, the scope of the project increased in terms of density and heights of the buildings.”

Although the a 300-foot tall building proposed for the site garnered the most concern, staff noted that the plan approved by the city permitted three 180-foot-tall buildings.

Hurst said a May 2007 document shows buildings below 180 feet, but “a line on the page” also shows that buildings up to 180 feet tall would be permitted.

Sapperton resident Danielle Connelly said she feels let down that the impact of “the black line” wasn’t made more clear to residents. She said community members feel let down by the process and don’t have the time or expertise to understand documents like city staff and developers.

“It’s not something I have the time to do and if I did I probably wouldn’t understand what it meant anyways. This is where we turn to our city and hope they will be looking out for our best interests,” she said. “I feel very disappointed. I hope you do not approve this without addressing the traffic concerns.”

Connelly said traffic is a big concern and questioned why all accesses from the site come out into upper Sapperton, rather than Brunette Avenue.

Jim Lowrie, the city’s director of engineering, said staff is reassessing the traffic impact study that was provided at the time of the rezoning and will report back to council.

While she supports the project, Coun. Mary Trentadue said she understands why there is some confusion in the community about what’s being built because a number of drawings were presented during the process.

“I think we need to do a better job at making sure people understand. It’s great to have transparency, but we need to have clarity. We need to make sure people really understand what’s going on. I think that’s a piece that’s missing,” she said. “There seems to be a lot of confusion. That tells me that somewhere along the line, we weren’t clear or we didn’t take the time that was needed for people to understand. That’s a big take away.”

About 10 Sapperton residents attended Monday night’s council meeting to express concern about the building being proposed, traffic impacts and the process.

“I have talked to so many residents in Sapperton – they are beaten. They feel totally let down by the process, by council of the day, by city planning, by Wesgroup, by everyone. At the last residents’ association meeting where we voted it down, people were saying, ‘I give up.’ I want you to be aware of that,” Sapperton resident Barb Adamski told council. “The lack of attendance here is not because of a lack of feeling.”

Coun. Chuck Puchmayr said he’d like projects to include “multiple different models” that convey the maximum heights of buildings in the future, as this would help the public understand what heights are permissible.

“I don’t buy that people are tired and are not showing up. Believe me, I have seen this gallery packed, and I have seen this outdoor (foyer) packed. People were tired and fed up, but boy they come here when they have something to say,” he said. “I think that somewhat reflects that there is an understanding that there is going to be density on that site.”

Beau Jarvis, senior vice-president of development for Wesgroup, said all documentation related to the project indicated the highrise could be up to 180 feet tall. He said Wesgroup delivered on it promises to provide jobs at the site, a grocery store and retail space and recognition of the site’s history.

“Huge delivery on promises, huge,” he said. “It’s like a master planned community developed backwards. Normally, you see the residential, and then the commercial follows. Here we have all the jobs and the long-term, well-paying jobs that came and not a single residential unit.”

Because depictions of shorter towers were presented in conceptual drawings, Jarvis understands some of the comments made by residents.

“To say that we can’t be trusted or haven’t delivered on promises, frankly, it is upsetting,” he said. “It couldn’t be more of the opposite. In recognition of the concerns about the 180-storey tower, we have listened to the residents. We brought it down to 150 feet. … At 180 feet it was a 117,000-square-foot tower. That is a tiny tower to begin with, and we just lopped off 18,000 square feet that we’ll build later.”

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