Six-storey wood-frame apartment gets OK

Demolition of two aging apartment buildings is underway to pave the way for the first six-storey wood-frame building in New Westminster.

Since the province amended the B.C. Building Code in 2008 to allow for six-storey wood-frame buildings, a handful of buildings have gotten underway in B.C. The building at 414 to 422 Royal Ave., which is across the street from New Westminster city hall, will contain 118 units.

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City council recently considered an application to vary sections of the zoning bylaw relating to the number of parking spaces, the height of the building and the width of the building. The existing zoning requires 185 parking spaces (170 are proposed), requires a building height of 40 feet (60 feet is proposed) and requires a building width of 119 feet if the building is higher than 40 feet (a width of 227 feet is proposed).

Cameron Thorn, vice president of development for Ledingham McAllister, said the company has been working with the city's planning department to create a well-designed project that will be a long-term asset to the community. In addition to being an attractive building, Thorn said the building will be affordable for people wanting to get into the housing market in New Westminster.

The developer will be contributing $150,000 to the city's affordable housing reserve fund.

According to Thorn, the New Westminster Downtown Residents' Association supports the application.

A resident of 550 Royal Ave., which is located next to the development site, expressed concern about the loss of natural light and the loss of privacy from people in a six-storey building looking down on her unit.

Barry Waitt, a senior planner with the city, noted that the six-storey building would be farther away from 550 Royal Ave. than the existing three-storey building so it should cause minimal shadowing.

"If I get more light, I am happy with that," she replied. "My only concern would be the height of the building and people looking down on me."

The woman also voiced concern that crews currently working at the site start work before the 7 a.m. start time that's permitted under city bylaws. "They are giving me a bit of a wakeup call."

A resident of an Agnes Street apartment that is located near the proposed apartment also expressed concern about the loss of sunlight to some of the suites in his building. He doesn't feel a six-storey building will be a good fit in the neighbourhood, which has many three-storey apartments.

New Westminster city council also received two letters from residents of 550 Royal Ave. who voiced concerns that the project would increase traffic and parking problems in the area and would result in a loss of affordable rental stock in the city.

A report from the city's development services department acknowledged the loss of rental housing stock.

"However, the property owner has explained that the decision to demolish the buildings relates to advice from a structural engineer that it would be cost-prohibitive to upgrade the existing buildings," said the report. "In addition, the city's solicitor has advised that the city cannot require the replacement of rental housing in connection with this type of application, nor can the city withhold a demolition permit for existing rental properties. Moreover, the solicitor advised that a council cannot reject a development variance permit application if the rationale is concern for the loss of rental housing."

Council approved variances for the six-storey wood-frame building.

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