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New Westminster examines affordable housing projects

The City of New Westminster is doing its “due diligence” regarding two potential affordable housing projects in the city.
Connaught Heights
Some Connaught Heights residents are concerned that some green space in their neighbourhood is being considered for affordable housing development. Show here are area residents, from left, Kevin Kutasi, Arpad Kutasi, Bob Petrusa and Gary Hartley.

The City of New Westminster is doing its “due diligence” regarding two potential affordable housing projects in the city.

After issuing a request for proposals for potential small sites affordable housing projects last fall, staff did an initial evaluation of the 14 proposals it received for city-owned properties in Connaught Heights (2035 London St. and 2038 Ninth Ave) and in Queensborough (350 to 362 Fenton St.) The city has hired a consultant to provide a more detailed analysis of the financial components.

“A significant amount of due diligence is still required to be completed in relation to the applications,” said a July 13 staff report to council. “The due diligence process allows staff to request further information from the proponents, discuss with applicants how projects could better align with the application criteria, and provide the applicants with preliminary feedback from council, staff and received from the community.”

If council endorses a proponent for one or both of the identified properties, a development review process would then begin.

According to the report, about 79 community members participated in a June 29 virtual public information meeting about the Connaught Heights proposal, at which time they provided 197 questions and comments. A July 18 virtual meeting about the Queensborough site was attended by about 17 community members, who provided 24 questions or comments.

In June, Connaught Heights’ residents launched an online petition (Connaught Heights Petition) at asking the city to halt plans to redevelop the site in their neighbourhood.

Bob Petrusa, who has lived in the neighbourhood for 34 years, said area residents only recently learned of the city’s plans.

“The residents’ association wasn’t even notified,” he told the Record. “They will claim this was put in the hopper in October 2019 at a council meeting. It passed unanimously to look into the possibilities. I gotta tell you, when people start showing up on the site with plans and prints and details, you kind of wonder, is the cart before the horse or is there no horse?”

According to Petrusa, the property has been vacant since he moved to the neighbourhood, but it was once home to a small community centre. He said many area residents would like it to be retained as greenspace, noting some of the greenspace once provided at Connaught Heights Elementary is now taken up by portables.

“The bottom-line is we have never gotten anything in this neighbourhood, period. We have been the Wild West for a long time,” he said. “We are a small land-locked community that can only do so many things. They have not offered us anything in the way of space.”

Petrusa, who participated in the city’s official community plan process, said area residents know big changes are contemplated for the area around the 22nd Street SkyTrain station, but there’s been no discussion about these particular properties. He said traffic is a major concern among area residents.

“Most communities are a four-door community – you can go north, south, east or west. We are a two-door community,” he said. “And 20th Street, as you may have noticed, is a nightmare. We are landlocked.”

In response to its request for proposals, the city received 14 proposals – seven for each of the sites being considered for small lots affordable housing projects.

“Of the seven proposals received for 2035 London St. and 2038 Ninth Ave., the number of units proposed ranges from eight to 24, with the average being 16. All proposals are three storeys or less, with most employing a stacked townhouse or townhouse form,” stated the city’s website. “Of the seven proposals received for 350 to 362 Fenton St., the number of units proposed ranges from 15 to 80, with the average being 40. The proposals are a mix of low-rise apartment, stacked townhouse and townhouse forms.”

According to the city, mostof the proposals are based on a mix of incomes and all of the proposals contain affordable housing units, with some proponents proposing an affordable home-ownership model. There are a range of affordability levels, with most aligning with the city’s definition of below- and non-market housing.