New Westminster seeks input on separate entrances

New Westminster is opening the door to input on separate entrances and spaces in mixed-tenure buildings.

In September, council endorsed some interim guidelines to be used in situations where separated common areas are included in mixed-tenure projects. Council also approved a work plan for the development on a policy regarding shared and separate entrances and common areas.

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“We do have an inclusionary policy. As part of that inclusionary housing policy, we will see far more instances where you are going to have mixed-tenure developments – a strata development with either market or non-market rental components,” said John Stark, the city’s supervisor of community planning. “Typically, in the past, it would either be a strata building or a rental building. The whole thing of shared or separate entrances wouldn’t even be a consideration because they would be separate buildings.”

As a result of the inclusionary housing policy and the city’s efforts to get more affordable housing through voluntary amenity contributions from developers, more buildings will have mixed-tenure.

The city is inviting residents to provide input on the policy about shared and separate entrances/common areas at an open house on Wednesday, Nov. 27 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Century House.

Earlier this year, council considered and approved an Uptown highrise development that included separate entrances and amenity areas for strata and rental units. While the majority of council members said they understood the developer’s rationale, which centred around its ability to properly maintain the rental component it will continue to manage and maintain once the development is built, council members and citizens also voiced concerns about creating so-called “poor doors” and stigmatizing folks living in the rental units.

“There are definitely strong opinions on both sides, but I think by having the discussion and hearing different points of view, maybe there is some common ground that can be reached, or at least some understanding,” Stark said. “It’s definitely not black and white. Whether it is a developer, a non-profit housing provider, a funder or a building resident, they all have different perspectives. I think it’s our job to kind of to be able to listen, to summarize those perspectives and hopefully come up with a policy which addresses some of the significant concerns but maybe has some flexibility. I don’t want to presuppose the outcome because we haven’t had either the stakeholder or the public session yet.”

In addition to public open house, the city is having an invitation-only session with stakeholders on Nov. 21.

“So far, it looks like we have 12 attendees. That would be four from the development industry, five from the non-profit housing sector and three others – that would be BC Housing, Landlord BC and BC Acorn,” he said. “It’s a really good mix when you look at it. I am glad that we have different perspectives.”

Staff will also be researching policies in other cities and engaging a land economist to help the city better understand the financial and operational implications of shared and separate commons areas.

“There has to be a policy which is not only going to address some of the concerns that have been raised by council and the community but also result in new units,” Stark said. “It may be a situation where we look at the opportunities and challenges related to shared and separate entrances and common areas, but also look at under what circumstances would you consider separate entrances or common areas.”

Stark said it’s an “emerging” issue, so there is little policy work at this time on separate entrances and amenity areas. While the City of Vancouver has hired a consultant to do a comprehensive study, he said that study will likely take eight to 12 months to complete.

A report to council stated the city currently has two-instream mixed tenure development applications that have proposed separate entrances and amenities.

“Council has given us some direction,” Stark said. “They did direct staff as an interim policy to discourage applicants from putting forward applications with separate entrances and common areas.”

Staff is aiming to present council with a draft shared and separate common areas policy in February 2020.

When the city began posting notices about the upcoming open house on social media last week, some people expressed concern separate entrances would even be considered.

“I think sometimes people think debate can be negative. I see it as a positive because people are talking about it. I think one of our fears when we thought about the public session was would there be interest? Would people be engaged enough to want to come out to this session,” Stark said. “I think, given the discussion that has happened on social media, in the back-and-forth, I think it’s really positive because hopefully we will get a good turnout at that session, which is really important because we do want to hear from people.”

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