More rental units eyed in New West's Brewery District

Changes are coming to the Brewery District in Sapperton – but exactly what they’ll look like remains to be seen.

Following a public hearing on Monday night, council approved a zoning amendment bylaw (text amendment) and a housing agreement amendment bylaw for sites in the Brewery District.

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Rupinder Basi, the city’s development planning supervisor, said the amendment would allow changes to the development of the Building 8 site by allowing up to 200,000 square feet of the permitted 300,000 square feet of density to be used for either residential, including strata residential, or a variety of commercial uses. The remaining 100,000 square feet of the permitted floor space would be limited to general and health-related commercial uses.

“The overall density for the Building 8 site would not change,” he said. “However, there would be provisions within the zone to allow for an increase in the maximum permitted building height from 195 feet to 320 feet, should a residential component, a tower, be included as part of a future mixed-use development for the site.”

In exchange for the text amendment, Wesgroup is proposing to secure 100% of Building 5 as a rental residential building for 60 years, or the life of the building. In addition, 210,000 square feet of the space permitted for residential uses within Building 7 would be converted to secured market rental residential, with remaining 50,000 square feet in this building to be used as general and health-related commercial space.

According to Basi, these changes would amount to an increase of approximately 320 secured market rental units within the Brewery District development. The changes would also ensure a minimum of 150,000 square feet of general and health-related commercial space is retained within Building 7 and 8, but it could be more depending on future market conditions.

Building 5, located at 228 Nelson’s Cres., is a newly constructed residential building with half of the units being secured market rental. A development permit was recently issued for Building 7 at 268 Nelson’s Crt., which will be the next phase of construction at the Brewery District. Building 8, located at 230 Keary St., is a future development site. 

The height and massing of Building 8 would depend on the final land-use mix that’s determined for the property, something to be determined at the development permit stage and be dependent on market conditions.

No residents spoke at Monday’s public hearing, but one resident wrote a letter “strongly” opposing the proposal and saying his neighbours “gave up” a long time ago because the process is flawed. Some residents have voiced concerns about the potential height and massing of the tower, as well as traffic and parking.

“One of the things that we have seen with a recently commissioned traffic report from Bunt and Associates is that there has actually been a reduced amount of vehicle flow in and out, especially based on the rental homes where we are seeing a lot of people SkyTrain or just elect not to have vehicles,” said Fabian Leitner, Wesgroup’s director of development. “We were pleasantly surprised by that trend.”

Coun. Chuck Puchmayr was the lone council member to oppose the plan, citing concerns about the loss of office space from what was originally contemplated when council approved a master plan for the Brewery District site. With a $1.5-billion expansion taking place across the street at Royal Columbian Hospital, he said the plan was to designate certain amounts of space for office and health-care services – not residential.

“The money is in residential. I am worried they are going to become residential,” he said. “I think doing this prior to seeing fruition of that huge, biggest hospital expansion in British Columbia history, right here in New Westminster, I think it is short-sighted. It reverses the vision, which I thought was a really good vision in putting those pieces in place clearly for the future of the future expansion of the hospital.”

Coun. Patrick Johnstone believes the “big win” is a quadrupling of the amount of purpose-built rental or secured market rental housing at this location. He said Sapperton is a neighbourhood that really could afford to have more rental, especially next to a health-care centre

Coun. Nadine Nakagawa said it’s important to put housing near SkyTrain, especially in the context of the climate crisis. She said it makes a lot of sense to provide rental housing near transit and near jobs like those nearby at Royal Columbian Hospital and TransLink.

Mayor Jonathan Cote believes what’s been built and what’s being planned to be built at the Brewery District is intact with the city’s original vision of creating a mixed-use neighbourhood that includes retail, residential and office space. He said the site will contain more rental than was ever conceived, but that’s a positive addition to the neighbourhood.

While health-care uses are critically important in the area and are a big part of the city’s economic development strategy, Cote said things have changed since the Brewery District was first proposed.

“It was actually envisioned that the hospital expansion might occur on that site and that’s why such a large building right next to the hospital was contemplated in there,” he said. “As things have evolved that is no longer the case. The hospital is now going to be redeveloped strictly on-site.”

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