New Westminster is relaunching a visioning process for the 22nd Street SkyTrain station area after previous efforts were put on hold because of the pandemic and staffing challenges.
During the 2017 update to the official community plan, the City of New Westminster identified the area around the 22nd Street SkyTrain station as a place that could accommodate higher density. In response to the city’s declaration of a climate emergency in 2019, council later endorsed a plan to create a “bold vision” for a climate friendly, transit-oriented development around the SkyTrain station.
Planning work related to this neighbourhood has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and staffing shortages and pandemic workload impacts.
But in a June 12 report to council, staff sought council’s direction on the relaunch of the visioning process for the neighbourhood. The report noted staff had reached out to First Nations, in anticipation of relaunching the project in 2023, to gauge the level of interest in participating in the project.
“Early expressions of interest from several Frist Nations communities have created an opportunity to explore closer collaboration with them in this planning process, and embed reconciliation as a fundamental project focus along with climate-resilience aspirations,” said the report.
On Monday, council unanimously approved a recommendation directing staff to proceed with the proposed 22nd Street station area bold vision process, with a dual focus on First Nations collaboration and building climate resilience.
The report outlined some of the work that’s been happening with this process, including engaging a consultant with experience in running “ideas competitions” and neighbourhood planning processes, exploring potential collaborations with Simon Fraser University and engaging with First Nations about their interesting in being involved in the process.
The first step in the visioning process is to collaborate with First Nations about the project. Subsequent steps include inviting submission on how to achieve the project’s goals (an ideas challenge), evaluating and shortlisting ideas, developing the ideas and concepts, presenting a vision to council and community members, and implementing the vision.
According to the report, the next steps are to engage First Nations to better understand how they wish to participate in the process and to seek their feedback on the preliminary plan of running an ideas challenge and visioning process through 2023 and 2024.
Coun. Nadine Nakagawa said she’s excited about the idea of having First Nations engagement and a climate focus for the neighbourhood.
“I think there’s a lot of components of it that are really exciting,” she said. “It’s a huge opportunity for the city. So we do want to get it right and we do want to ensure that it’s meeting all community members’ needs. People in the area, obviously, it’s very, very important to them. But other community members also will want to use any amenities that show up in that neighborhood as well.”
Coun. Daniel Fontaine said he’s really excited that this project is moving forward and knows Connaught Heights’ residents will be excited to see it get underway. He said he hosted a forum in April about densification in Connaught Heights, which was attended by close to 100 residents.
“I would love to see us move as quickly as we can. The residents have been waiting a long time. They’re excited about this. I’m excited about it,” he said. “I think this is a huge opportunity for us to revitalize the neighbourhood, build more affordable housing, build the diversity of housing in that community, and do it all within a transit-oriented development.”
Coun. Ruby Campbell said she supports the approach recommended by staff, which prioritizes visioning in collaboration with Indigenous peoples and opportunities to support climate change mitigation and adaptation.
“Planning communities using this approach is principled, and really sits better with me than the meeting that was held back in April hosted by a real estate agent, and a councillor here has just mentioned that they hosted it, who’s working with developers’ interests in mind,” she said.
Fontaine called a “point of order”, saying the comments weren’t factual as he hosted the event on his own.
Rewording her concerns, Campbell said the meeting was attended and promoted by a real estate agent who is working with developers. She noted the meeting was held at a city facility and advertised on the city’s website.
“How is the city going to differentiate that meeting from the process, knowing that there is a lot of confusion, and sometimes fatigue, around consultation?” she asked. “You know, sometimes people don’t come out twice. And so I just want to make sure … how are we going to ensure residents understand which is the legitimate consultation process.”
Jackie Teed, acting director of climate action, planning and development, said that’s something staff could consider as they move forward with the application.
Fontaine took exception to the suggestion that the meeting he hosted was not legitimate. He said nearly 100 community members “were incredibly appreciative” of the fact an elected official wanted to hear from them.
“There were people in that room who did not want the 22nd Street master plan to go ahead and there were people, a lot of them, who did. But it’s my role as an elected official to hear from people, and that’s an opportunity for me to do it; I did it,” he said. “And I just want it to be clear, your worship, because I don’t want it left in the public’s mind that somehow what I did was illegitimate, or that I was somehow hosting or co-hosting this with a real-estate developer.”
Mayor Patrick Johnstone expressed concern that the discussion was going to get into a “two-way dialogue that’s probably not productive at all.” He said the concern raised related to starting a public process when an event that wasn’t part of that process has already been held.
“I think there was some question about clarifying that these two processes are separate so people don’t feel like, ‘Well, I’ve already engaged in that, I don’t want to engage in this thing.’ I think the question was about the division between the two processes,” he said. “And maybe we’ll leave it at that. I think we should cool off.”