Some downtown residents are urging city hall to reverse its plan to tear down part of the Front Street Parkade.
A trio of residents appeared at the Feb. 23 council meeting to ask the city to keep the western portion of the parkade. Along with providing parking for a growing downtown population, they said there are opportunities to use the parkade in a way that is more attractive and connects the downtown to the waterfront.
“It is really structurally sound. It requires routine maintenance and cosmetic work,” Roland Guasparini later told the Record. “It may be a bit underutilized with parking now, but most of the parking that’s used is on the west side, where their own reports have said there is a shortage, the park toward the Quay and the market.”
Doug Whicker said the parkade is a “valuable asset” that will be needed even more when the Bosa development on the western side of River Market and the Larco development on the eastern side get underway. Both sites currently provide parking next to River Market.
Jim Lowrie, the city’s director of engineering, said the city conducted an inventory of downtown parking and found there was a “significant” surplus of parking to meet the downtown’s needs.
Last April, New Westminster city council directed staff to proceed with actions needed to deconstruct a portion of the Front Street parkade and restore Front Street frontage road. The city’s plan for the Front Street frontage road – the area between Front Street and the buildings – is a pedestrian area that includes a narrow drive aisle, angled parking, a wide sidewalk and a landscaped boulevard with trees.
Whicker said council has been “misled” about the merits of the mews concept, noting it will be located beside one of the busiest truck routes in Greater Vancouver and next to a rail line. He said the parkade currently provides “substantial noise shielding” that will be lost when it is demolished, making the area noisier for area residents.
New Westminster’s 2015 capital plan includes $3.5 million to demolish the western portion of the parkade, saying the aging structure requires increasing maintenance as it nears the end of its design life. The city has developed a plan to rehabilitate the eastern portion of the parkade.
Jerry Johnson, a structural engineer graduate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he’s read the reports on the condition of the parkade and walked around the structure and sees no significant issues that couldn’t be fixed and upgraded. While the parkade needs to be maintained, he compared tearing it down to “burning down your house because it’s time to paint.”
Part of city’s vision for the downtown is improved connections between the downtown and the riverfront.
Guasparini contends that tearing down part of the parkade actually eliminates an existing connection between the waterfront and the downtown. He noted that people can currently access the structure via two vehicular ramps and a number of staircases from Front Street.
Guasparini believes the parkade offers alls sorts of opportunities that haven’t been fully considered by the city. He feels the top deck of the entire parkade could be used as a place for the public to “walk and linger” and enjoy the views of the Fraser River, something that could be achieved through enhancements such as benches.
“Why are we rushing into demolition?” he questioned. “They have said there is no urgency for this, yet for some reason they just want to push this on. When I talk to people walking there, they are not in favour of it. ... That’s why I had to get involved. I just don’t see the rush.”
Mayor Jonathan Cote said he appreciates the residents’ comments, but noted the city made a decision to demolish a portion of the parkade because it fits in with its long-term vision for the waterfront.
Coun. Patrick Johnstone said he likes the idea of using the top deck for an urban use, but can’t justify keeping the western portion of the parkade given its age and maintenance needs.
Coun. Chuck Puchmayr said he has no interest in revisiting council’s decision to demolish a portion of the parkade.
“I respect your plight to try and reverse this,” he said. “This has been talked about for many, many years. … The issue has passed.”
For more on this issue, visit www.newwestrecord.ca and check out a Q&A with the mayor.