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New West residents divided on affordable housing project

Support for affordable housing vs. deviation from official community plan
Signs like this one are popping up in Glenbrooke North because of a proposed six-storey apartment in the 800 block of Sixth Street.

A proposed affordable housing project in Glenbrooke North is garnering mixed responses in the community.

The Aboriginal Land Trust Society has applied to the city for an amendment to the official community plan, a rezoning and a development permit as part of its plan to build a 96-unit apartment building at 823 to 841 Sixth St. The proposed six-storey apartment building is intended to provide affordable, multigenerational and multicultural homes for members of the urban Indigenous and Swahili communities.

At a special meeting on Feb. 11, the Glenbrooke North Residents’ Association voted 74 to 40 in favour of writing to the mayor and council stating the group opposes changing the official community plan to allow a six-storey building to be built on the sites. The applicant and city representatives were among the 100 people in attendance at the packed online meeting.

Lynn Roxburgh, a senior policy planner with the city, acknowledged the efforts of the residents’ association in hosting the meeting.

“The meeting was very well attended. The Glenbrooke North Residents’ Association did a great job of facilitating the discussion of their largest ever meeting, especially given the virtual format,” she said in an email to the Record. “The facilitators set out rules for the meeting, which everyone respectfully followed.”

The project has caused divisions within the community, with opponents wanting the city to stand by land uses approved in the 2017 official community plan (OCP) and supporters advocating for the provision of affordable housing.

In an email to the Record, the residents’ association’s secretary outlined some of the comments made by residents attending the meeting.

Glenbrooke North residents who voted against the motion feel the project would be good for the neighbourhood and the city, support zoning and OCP changes to allow a six-storey building and believe the OCP is a living document that’s meant to change. They also stated the location is near transit, schools and other amenities and is on a busy street, so it’s better suited to this project than single-family homes.

Supporters said the neighbourhood needs more housing, community and cultural diversity; the city needs more social housing; and the Indigenous and Swahili peoples who would live in the building would help diversify the neighbourhood. While some Fifth Street and Sixth Street residents would be negatively affected, supporters would like the city to support the project.

According to residents’ association, the individuals who support the project don’t live near the site. All of the residents directly impacted by the project, along with 37 other Glenbrooke North residents, oppose the project.

Residents who oppose the project want the development to conform to the existing OCP designation of residential-infill townhouse and believe the project would set a precedent for further OCP amendments in the neighbourhood. Some indicated they would prefer a two- or three-storey building, saying a six-storey building is too tall and would shadow their properties and affect their privacy.

Other concerns expressed by those opposed to the development include the loss of three rental homes. Some are concerned about the traffic impacts the apartment building would have on the narrow lane between Fifth and Sixth streets, and would prefer vehicle access be from Sixth Street and not the lane.

Some residents suggested the applicant should find another location for the project.

Where it’s at

According to Roxburgh, the next step in the development review process is for the applicant to review the feedback received from the community, the New Westminster design panel and city staff, and to consider revisions to the application materials. In addition to attending the meeting, the applicant held a virtual open house in January.

In December, council received a preliminary report about the proposal and directed staff to: proceed with processing the development applications; work with the applicant to improve the transition to the surrounding lower-density neighbourhood; and report back to council with a recommendation about how the city could financially support the Aboriginal Land Trust Society’s project in a way that’s consistent with updated guidelines for the city’s affordable housing reserve fund.

A December 2020 staff report stated the project is reliant on the applicant receiving funding from each level of government. Staff is exploring the enhancement of the city’s affordable housing reserve fund and the use of that fund to financially support this project.

Roxburgh said no date has been set for when that report will go to council.

The city is continuing to accept feedback about the proposal through its Be Heard New West website.  

“I haven’t done a comprehensive assessment of the feedback yet as we are still receiving input,” Roxburgh said. “I will provide a summary in the next report to council related to this project.”

The Aboriginal Land Trust is aiming to have the zoning and OCP amendment approved by summer 2021, Roxburgh said.

A December 2020 report to council stated the neighbourhood around the site is designated in the OCP to have lower-density uses, but the document allows the city to consider six-storey buildings in cases where there is “high alignment” with city policies. Staff say this project is aligned with the city’s reconciliation initiative and its efforts to aggressively pursue affordable housing.

OCP concerns

Many of the Glenbrooke North residents opposing the project want the city to follow the official community plan that was adopted in 2017, which was intended to guide development in the city until 2041.

Development was an issue the city grappled with in 2016, when council considered land uses in Glenbrooke North as part of the OCP update.

In January 2016, council considered a staff proposal to designate some parts of the west side of Fifth Street as residential-townhouse – an idea opposed vehemently by many Fifth Street residents. That concept was eventually scrapped.

In April 2017, council approved a motion to designate Glenbrooke North properties on Eighth Avenue, First Street and Colborne Street as residential-detached and semi-detached housing. Council felt that decision struck a balance by providing housing options through sensitive infill and addressing residents’ concerns about townhouses.

Some council members and citizens, however, would have preferred the city take bolder action to provide a greater range of housing options in the area for future generations.

"This OCP is going to take us quite a ways out into the future, and I think it's our responsibility to put in density where we can," Coun. Mary Trentadue said at the time. "The biggest issue for people in the Lower Mainland right now is housing. Continuing on with single-family housing does not help that, and we have to compromise."

In 2016, some New Westminster residents formed a Yes In New West coalition to urge the city to consider the housing needs of current and future residents. Coalition members supported opportunities to create more row houses, townhouses, and carriage and laneway houses, saying single-family homes are out of reach for many and alternatives to condominiums are needed by residents.


Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus