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New Westminster shoots for the sky with towers

New Westminster city council has approved a plan that will see two skyscrapers built on the waterfront.
Larco Bosa New Westminster
An architect’s rendering of the proposed Pier West development on New Westminster's waterfront. In a unanimous vote by five council members (two were not in attendance for the vote), council approved variances that will allow the project to proceed as planned.

New Westminster city council has approved a plan that will see two skyscrapers built on the waterfront.

Council has approved a development permit to allow variances that will make way for Bosa to build two towers and a three-storey commercial building at 600 to 720 Quayside Dr. The development – named Pier West – would include 43- and 53-storey highrises.

Without the variances, Bosa is able to build three towers ranging from 25 to 45 storeys.

“We saw overwhelming support for a two-tower scheme that opened up the skylines, with a modest increase in height,” said Dan Diebolt, development manager at Bosa Development. “I hope you will see that we worked hard to earn support from community members and made a genuine commitment to fine-tuning our plan as we’ve gone along.”

In response to concerns from area residents and River Market merchants, Diebolt said Bosa will use a type of pile driving aimed at minimizing noise impacts on neighbours, will delay the construction start date to ensure parking is provided at a neighbouring site and has revised plans to reduce the amount of time Begbie Street will be closed.

Jenny Cashin, owner of Mid-Century Modern Home at River Market, said Bosa resolved some “very major concerns” that would have resulted in merchants moving out of the market.

Two downtown residents voiced concerns about traffic congestion near Bebgie and Front streets and about emergency response to the waterfront site.

Jim Lowrie, the city’s director of engineering, said a detailed traffic assessment was done and found the existing road network could accommodate the traffic expected to be generated by the development. He said the city’s emergency responders are satisfied they’ll have good access to the waterfront via the two existing overpasses and the crossing at Begbie Street.

Coun. Patrick Johnstone believes the project will create great public spaces on the waterfront and will result in an extension of Westminster Pier Park. He thinks it’s preferable to have two towers on this site, rather than the three that are already permitted.

“It’s important to note that this variance we are doing actually represents a reduction in density, a reduction in the number of suites that are going to be there. It is going to provide fewer, probably larger, more family-friendly residences,” he said. “I am cognizant about the concerns about density and the impact on traffic – that is work the city continues to do – but this variance is not going to increase that.”

When he was elected to council 12 years ago, Coun. Bill Harper said 13 highrises were permitted on the Bosa and Westminster Pier Park sites, which would have created a wall in front of the city and blocked residents from the river. Having been on council when the city built Westminster Pier Park and seen the challenges involved with building on piles over the river, he considers approval of the Bosa plan to be “a huge victory” for the city.

“We have gone from 13 towers to two. The towers have become skinnier because we want to have better viewscapes from across the city. Not only that, but the part that I am really high on is that these buildings are going to be iconic. That was written right into the design. Iconic means they are going to stand out,” he said. “They are going to be a symbol, if you like, of New Westminster. When people are on the river, in Surrey or driving across the Pattullo Bridge, those will be some of the major landmarks for our city.”

Situated between River Market, Westminster Pier Park, Fraser River Discovery Centre and the waterfront boardwalk, Mayor Jonathan Cote said the Bosa site has been the “missing link” on the riverfront. He said one of the city’s biggest successes in the past 12 years has been its efforts to reimagine the waterfront and how it will connect with the community.

Cote conceded that the towers will be “a bit different scale” than other highrises in the downtown, but supported the plan as he believes it’s an improvement over past plans for the site.

“We have seen some of the units come down,” he said. “Most importantly, we see three towers going down to two towers. I recognize we are getting over 50 storeys but if you are living in a highrise tower in close proximity to these, I think the difference between three and two towers has a much greater impact on the views and the neighbourhood feel.”

Pier West will include: Two residential towers and one three-storey commercial building; a 40-space child care facility in the commercial space; two acres of park and public open space, including an extension to Westminster Pier Park, a public plaza and esplanade space; 80 public parking stalls; 932 parking stalls for the development; and new pedestrian connections between Westminster Pier Park, Fraser River Discovery Centre and River Market.

Evolution of the Bosa/Larco site plan

Larco’s 2005 plan

* Five towers (25 to 30 storeys) on top of a three-storey, above-grade parking podium

* 911 residential units

* No retail or commercial uses

* 1,242 parking stalls above grade, including 148 parking stalls

* 15- metre riverfront esplanade

* Plaza space at the foot of Begbie Street

* Two pedestrian overpasses through the Front Street parkade, at Begbie and Mackenzie streets

* Project to be compatible with the encapsulation of Front Street by raising Quayside drive from Sixth to Eighth streets

* Closing Begbie Street and opening Eighth and Sixth streets vehicle crossings

Larco’s 2014 master plan (permitted under zoning without needing a development variance permit)

* Three towers (29, 38 and 47 storeys) and no parking podium

* 820 residential units, with townhouse oat the base of the eastern tower

* 40-space child-care facility; retail and restaurant spaces; and possibly a 150-room hotel

* 900 below-grade parking stalls, including 80 public parking spaces

* 1.95 acres of publicly owned parks and open space

* Nine metre wide (29 feet) riverfront esplanade

* At-grade access at Begbie Street for all modes, a pedestrian overpass at Sixth Street and pedestrian, cyclist and emergency vehicle access at grade at Sixth Street

Bosa’s 2017 plan

* Two towers (53 and 43 storeys) and a three-story commercial buildings

* 665 residential units

* 40-space child-care facility, commercial retail and restaurant space

* 929 below-grade parking stalls, including 80 public spaces

* 1.95 acres (0.79 hectares) of public parking and open space, which now includes the provision of riverfront space between the towers

* Nine metre wide riverfront esplanade

* At-grade access for all modes at Begbie Street and pedestrian and cyclist overpass at Sixth Street