New West affordable housing proposal generates concerns

Connaught Heights and Queensborough targeted for projects

Some Connaught Heights residents are concerned about a plan that’s in the works for a vacant site in their neighbourhood.

Last October, council endorsed the use of the city-owned properties at 2035 London St. and 2038 Ninth Ave. in the Connaught Heights neighbourhood, and 350 to 362 Fenton St. in Queensborough for the development of small-sites affordable housing projects. Council also directed staff to proceed with the issuance of a call for proposals to see how housing providers propose to develop these sites for affordable housing projects.

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

“Guess what? The residents’ association wasn’t even notified,” he said. “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 sites have been vacant since he moved to the neighbourhood, but they were once home to a small community centre. He said many area residents would like the property to be retained as greenspace.

“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.”

The Connaught Heights neighbourhood is bounded by 20th Street and Fenwick Street, and 10th Avenue and Marine Drive.

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 properties.

According to the city, it received seven proposals for each site in response to the request for proposals, and each of the proposals is now under review.

Next week, the city is holding virtual information sessions on Zoom, one for each site. The meetings will include a staff presentation providing an overview of the proposals and the evaluation criteria, followed by a question-and-answer session.

* Connaught Heights site: Monday, June 29 – 6:30 to 8 p.m. Zoom Meeting ID: 860 3169 1144
* Queensborough site: Wednesday, July 8 – 6:30 to 8 p.m. Zoom Meeting ID: 891 6354 9984.

For more details about the projects or how to participate in the meetings, go to www.tinyurl.com/NWSmallSites.

Along with some concerns about the density that’s being proposed for the single-family neighbourhoods, 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,” Petrusa said of ways in and out of the Connaught Heights neighbourhood. “And 20th Street, as you may have noticed, is a nightmare. We are landlocked.”

Connaught Heights residents have started a petition in opposition to the city’s plans to develop the site. With the provision of affordable housing being one of the city’s strategic priorities, Petrusa isn’t convinced residents’ input will have much influence on council’s decision.

“They tell you, ‘we are going to get together, we are going to consult’ and all the rest of it, but it sure does feel, taste and smell like it is a done deal,” he said. “That is really bothersome.”

One of city council’s priorities in its 2019 to 2022 strategic plan is to respond to the affordability crisis by leveraging city resources to secure development of below- and non-market housing. Using city-owned sites for housing is one of the ways council hopes to create affordable housing options in New West.

According to the City of New Westminster’s website, the city has received 14 proposals – seven for each of the sites.

“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,” said the 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.

  • Below-market rental units intended to meet rental demand for households earning between $30,000 and $75,000 per year (in 2020).
  • Non-market rental units intended to meet rental demand for very low-income households with incomes under $30,000 per year (in 2020).

An October 2019 staff report stated that the city identified 11 eligible city-own sites throughout the city and later shortlisted it to five sites, including three on the mainland and two in Queensborough. After considering potential challenges with those sites, including geotechnical issues and servicing requirements, staff recommended a call for proposals be issued for the Connaught Heights and Queensborough sties

 

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