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'Immense history': New West council weighs riverfront vision

Sapperton Landing-Pier Park connection is still on the table, but public mooring isn't.
New Westminster city council has voted against a motion that would involve work related to moorage for boats on the city's waterfront.

New Westminster city council is committed to connecting Sapperton Landing and Westminster Pier Park but it isn’t convinced that moorage on the waterfront is doable – or a priority – at this time.

Councillors Daniel Fontaine and Paul Minhas put forward a motion to council with the goal of increasing access to the Fraser River for residents and tourists. The motion cited the need for a waterfront connection between Sapperton and Westminster Pier Park, as well as a user-pay pleasure craft moorage on the city’s waterfront

“We have such an immense history with the Fraser River, and I've heard from so many people that they would love to have the opportunity to get closer to the river again, to be able to touch it, to be able to, perhaps, interact with it in a way that they can't currently do on places like the Quayside and the boardwalk and others,” Fontaine said.

Fontaine said the motion is about considering the opportunity of providing a space for moorage on the riverfront so people can moor boats on the river and then visit local eateries and shops.

“I think we have a wonderful opportunity for economic development with this, with tourism,” he said. “We have a wonderful opportunity to be able to reconnect with the Fraser River in a way that we've lost over the last number of decades.”

In a 5-2 vote, council opposed the motion which recommended that staff report back to council on opportunities to provide increased direct access and connectivity to the Fraser River for citizens and tourists.

Part of the motion included recommendations related to moorage. This included having the city identify opportunities and possible funding sources to plan and develop additional user-pay pleasure craft moorage on the city’s waterfront and getting staff to identify possible new access points for a user-pay pleasure craft launch facility.

The motion also included components related to the proposed pedestrian connection between Westminster Pier Park and Sapperton Landing Park. It asked staff to: identify the costs, challenges and opportunities of establishing a walkable link along the waterfront between Sapperton and Pier Park; prepare a stakeholder consultation strategy and present it to council as part of this review; and report to council regarding the necessary budget, possible sources of funding and resources required to undertake this work.

Coun. Ruby Campbell said the city has been working to create a vision for the riverfront for more than a decade, with construction of Westminster Pier Park, the removal of a portion of the parkade and negotiations to obtain more park land on the development site next to River Market and Pier Park among the actions that have been taken to date.

“A lot of this work has already happened or is in process,” she said.

Initiatives like the North Vancouver Shipyards can take decades to be realized, Campbell said. “We're getting there.”

Some councillors said the motion was redundant because the city already has plans to connect Sapperton Landing and Westminster Pier parks.

Coun. Tasha Henderson pointed out that the draft 2023 – 2027 capital plan has earmarked some funding related to that connection. While she fully supports the city’s plan to provide a riverfront walkway that links Sapperton and the Quay, she said it’s a complicated project.

“We have a riverfront vision and the bulk of this work is in there, with perhaps the exception of mooring docks. That is a major project,” she said. “Even just identifying access points for user pay pleasure craft launch facility would be major; that's a pretty significant thing for staff to go out and do, and requires some technical work.”

Coun. Nadine Nakagawa said she believes that “critical works” in the engineering department trump the need for moorage on the waterfront.

“I would say, for myself, pleasure crafts on the river isn't my chief priority at this time, because again, we have limited resources and we need to prioritize,” she said.

Mayor Patrick Johnstone said work to consider opportunities for waterfront moorage was done when Wayne Wright was mayor, so that’s why staff aren’t working on it.

“This work was actually done 15 years ago,” he said. “I don't think there was significant change in that working river since that time. So I think that work was already done.”

Fontaine said it wasn’t fair for some council members to characterize the motion as “redundant” because staff confirmed they’re not currently working on plans to develop a pleasure craft launch facility on the city’s waterfront.

After voting down the motion put forward by Fontaine and Minhas, council unanimously approved Campbell’s motion to have staff provide an update on the city’s riverfront vision.

What’s in the budget?

In late 2017, city council endorsed a conceptual design for the riverfront connection between Westminster Pier and Sapperton Landing parks, a concept that had been developed in a joint study between the city and TransLink. It envisioned a walkway similar to what’s found on the Willamette River waterfront in Portland, Oregon.

Here’s what’s included in the draft 2023 – 2027 capital plan related to the waterfront vision

* $733,800 in 2023 for property along the waterfront greenway. These funds are related to land acquisition and potential land swap.

“That refers to purchasing properties along that … stretch of riverfront in order to complete that greenway connection,” said Lisa Leblanc, the city’s director of engineering. “It would be necessary to acquire the waterfront properties, some of the waterfront properties along there, to add to the inventory of properties that we already own.”

* $100,000 in 2024 to implement an advocacy and fundraising campaign, endorsed by the mayor’s task force on the riverfront and the public realm, related to a riverfront advocate and advocacy for the Brunette Fraser Regional Greenway. Budget documents state that the expected outcome of this work is to get the ability to leverage the city’s DAC (development assistance compensation) funding to seek funding from senior governments and the private sector for the riverfront connection and to implement interim improvements to the Brunette Fraser Regional Greenway to demonstrate the regional value of the greenway.

“That refers to advocacy work to leverage funding to complete the connection from Westminster Pier Park, at the very eastern end of Westminster Pier Park across to Sapperton Landing Park, on the idea being it would be a floating greenway,” Leblanc said. “There are a variety of reports … that speak to the vision for that greenway connection.”

At a Feb. 13 afternoon workshop on the capital budget, Fontaine questioned staff about the use of those funds. At that evening’s council meeting, finance director Harji Varn said staff will have to revisit that item because the DAC funding (which was negotiated years ago when the city agreed to allow a casino to open in New West) will expire at the end of 2023.

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