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Queensborough housing project gets mixed response at New West city council

Housing proposed on site next to highway and railway
A development proposal in Queensborough is making its way through city hall.

A proposed development in Queensborough will move forward to the next stage in the review process despite some concerns by most members of city council.

Council recently considered a preliminary application review for an official community plan amendment and rezoning for 1084 Tanaka Crt. The applicant is proposing to build a six-storey development that includes about 12,000 square feet of commercial floor space, 79 market rental units, 20 affordable rental units and about 136 childcare spaces.

City staff recommended council discourage the applicant from seeking further consideration of the OCP amendment application, saying it’s premature until the city and community more comprehensively explore how that neighbourhood will develop in the future and the city completes its citywide retail strategy.

“The proposed project would locate residential uses north of Boyd Street on a site surrounded by properties designated and zoned for industrial, mixed employment and commercial entertainment uses, which is problematic from a livability perspective,” said a staff report. “The city currently receives complaints from existing residents in other areas in the neighbourhood who experience a similar situation, and these complaints generally pertain to noise, light intrusion and air quality issues.”

The triangular shaped property is situated next to the Southern Railway spur line and the Highway 91A.

Eric Ching, speaking on behalf of the proponent, said the residential building would be sited north towards the Lowe’s parking area and would be set back from the railway and the highway corridor.

“We believe that there is merit to the proposed development for this site,” he told council. “All that we ask is that council give us the opportunity to proceed with an application and demonstrate the viability and merits of this proposed development.”

Ching said the applicants believe the site is appropriate for housing as it’s centrally located, is accessible to transit and is as close to schools and the community centre as other residential properties in Queensborough.

Coun. Chuck Puchmayr said he was excited to see that the proponent has added a social housing component since the proposal was submitted to the city’s land use and planning committee.  Although the site is located in an area where housing isn’t currently contemplated, he said it’s in close proximity to the community centre and schools, as well as commercial amenities like Walmart, Value Village and Lowe’s.

“I think we need to think a little bit outside the box here,” he said.

Coun. Jaimie McEvoy said New Westminster should not kill off this proposal before it gets a chance to be considered at public hearing.

“People need housing. The worst housing to have is none. The worst location to live is nowhere,” he said. “We have a goal to increase childcare in Queensborough; we have a formal goal to do that. Do I care about the technicalities of the location? Do I care if a tiny portion of industrial land that is not being used as industrial land gets used for that housing? People will have to cross two crosswalks to get to a school? Come on people, that’s not where we are at. Where we are at is we get this kind of thing done.”

Concerns expressed

Other council members stressed their support for child care and affordable housing, but voiced concerns about the appropriateness of building housing on the proposed site.

“I find it very difficult to vote against something that has all of the things that I so strongly believe in. But I also think that it’s important to put housing in the right place and to have a well-thought-out plan for that area, which we are not there,” said Coun. Mary Trentadue. “I don’t want to see this development orphaned because we haven’t sorted out what is going to happen in that area and I don’t want people to move into that development and not have the livability that they deserve.”

Coun. Chinu Das expressed concern about having residential on this site.

“It is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole,” she said. “The location of this housing project is just not at the right place. I would love to support the same project somewhere else.”

Although schools and other amenities aren’t too far away, Das said the barriers of a highway and a railway that must be crossed to get there are too big to ignore. She said it’s also important that the city protect its remaining industrial lands.

After a lengthy discussion at its Nov. 15 meeting, council voted five to two in favour of advancing the official community plan amendment to the next stage of the process. Trentadue and Das voted in opposition, while councillors Puchmayr, McEvoy, Patrick Johnstone and Nadine Nakagawa and Mayor Jonathan Cote voted in support.

While they supported council’s motion – as opposed to the staff recommendation not to consider the OCP amendment at this time – Cote, Johnstone and Nakagawa all expressed concerns about the proposal.

“We are really taking one of our shrinking pieces of industrial and commercial, job-creating lands in the city and repurposing it in a fundamental way,” Johnstone said. “I am concerned about the location. As already mentioned, this may be, as the crow flies, close to a lot of amenities but people aren’t crows and getting from this site to those important community amenities involves a railroad track which has variable use level, I guess, but also a significant freeway.”

Trentadue expressed concern about giving “false hope” to the developer. Johnstone and Nakagawa voiced similar concerns about having the developer invest more money into the plan and having staff spending a lot of time working on a project that they may not be able to support.

Although the proposal addresses a lot of the city’s key priorities, Nakagawa said she doesn’t think the site is an appropriate location for housing. While the city “absolutely” needs housing, she worries about putting people who are low income and have other issues in areas that may be unhealthy for them.

“I don’t think it makes sense to throw all good principles of planning out the window,” she said. “There is significant drawbacks to this site that I am concerned about. So, if it’s the will of the council I’d be willing to let it go ahead and see how it develops but I don’t think housing at any and all cost should be the goal.”

Mayor Jonathan Cote said he really struggled with this proposal as it checks a lot of the boxes in terms of the city’s support for childcare and affordable housing, but the location is not ideal.

“I know the applicant is in the room, has presented to us but has also heard the conversation so obviously they can take their own reflection in terms of the difficulty council is having with this and make their own assessment in terms of their next step,” he said.

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