New West won't suspend 12th Street development applications

New Westminster city council has narrowly decided it will continue to consider new development applications on 12th Street.

In June, council and staff held an open workshop where they discussed the impact that new development is having on existing businesses on 12th Street.

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At that time, council directed staff to report back on the impact of temporarily suspending all 12th Street development permits.

On Aug. 26, council considered a staff recommendation to support continued application review of the four in-stream development applications on upper 12th Street, but to temporarily suspend new applications that require a change in zoning entitlements for properties designated as residential-multiple unit buildings or mixed-use – low rise, until staff completes the retail strategy and the upper 12th Street land-use strategy.

Coun. Nadine Nakagawa expressed concern about suspending consideration of new applications requiring a change in zoning entitlements until the policy work is complete.”

“My preference is actually for the process in which they come one by one,” she said. “I think there is a diversity of businesses and locations along that street. They don’t all fall into that same category. I wouldn’t want to too-broadly paint it with the same brush.”

Nakagawa is worried about “putting a total damper” on all new development proposals on 12th Street by suspending applications at this time, saying additional density is needed on the street to support the area’s retail district.

Lynn Roxburgh, a senior planner with the city, said staff recommended the temporary suspension because it would give the city the opportunity to do the policy work and provide more clarity to the development community, area residents and business owners about where the city was in the process.

“We can also pursue option 1, which would look at things on a case-by-case basis,” she said. “So every application would come forward and it would go through the LUPC (land use and planning committee) with an opportunity to get early feedback on whether we think that this is a project we think should move forward or something that should be paused as we develop other policy.”

12th street new westminster
Life on 12th street: A property along 12th Street, an area that is seeing great interest from the development community. City council is grappling with how that development is impacting existing businesses. Photos Kevin Hill

Coun. Patrick Johnstone also supported an option that allows the city to consider new applications on a case-by-case basis. Although council wants to do some policy work related to 12th Street, he said that work isn’t going to happen anytime quickly.

“I feel uncomfortable formally suspending applications because I don’t think it’s something that’s going to happen in weeks, it’s something that’s going to happen over the next couple of years, honestly with our work plan,” he said. “I think we can manage concerns that come up with different developments on a case-by-case process.”

Mayor Jonathan Cote said he was “a bit torn” on this issue, but was comfortable with temporarily suspending consideration of new applications requiring zoning changes until the policy work is done. He said a lot of the new developments will have retail on the ground level, but new retail often looks different than it does in older retail buildings.

“I think we can legitimately say that the OCP has spurred more interest and increased the pace at which development interest on the 12th Street corridor has happened,” he said. “To me, I think based on our workshop conversation, I think the recommendation put forward here is probably the best way to actually take a little bit slower conversation, accepting that we have some instream applications that should move forward, but not encouraging unless buildings are under existing zoning to not encourage that development there, to give us some more time.”

In a three to two vote, council voted in favour of Option 1, which allows consideration of applications requiring zoning changes to be considered on a case-by-case basis. Councillors Chinu Das, Johnstone and Nakagawa supported Option 1, while Cote and Coun. Jaimie McEvoy preferred the option recommended by staff. (Councillors Chuck Puchmayr and Mary Trentadue weren’t at the Aug. 26 meeting.)

“My reasoning: Firstly, it might not take that many applications to deny us our hope to preserve the character and mix of 12th Street. I just feel it’s better for the public and developers to have that discussion freely with an open slate. I’m concerned about how new development can impact on small business and lease rates,” McEvoy said in an email to the Record. “I think 12th Street is a good place to start that discussion of how a growing city can still be a place for small independent and diverse businesses. I’m just worried that, with a lot of policy development happening in the city, I’m worried that this discussion will take a while, and that development going ahead ad hoc in the meantime could leave us left behind by the time we develop the policy.”

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