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Residents voice concerns as public hearing for 125 Columbia Street looms

Artist rendering of the proposed project for 125 Columbia Street, near the Pattullo Bridge. - Contributed image
Artist rendering of the proposed project for 125 Columbia Street, near the Pattullo Bridge.
— image credit: Contributed image

A 21-storey residential tower proposed for 125 Columbia St., near the Pattullo Bridge, is facing stiff opposition from some nearby residents as a public hearing looms.

Residents worry the development will cause crowding at the new elementary school on the former St. Mary's Hospital site and will exacerbate traffic congestion in the area—particularly with the possibility of a new Pattullo Bridge and North Fraser Perimeter Road adding congestion in the future.

The developer, Ballenas Project Management, has applied to construct the residential tower, which would include 740 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor. The building would have 101 apartment units, with eight townhomes facing Albert Crescent Park.

City planner Barry Waitt said the zoning supports a high-density building, and it also fits with the Downtown Community Plan, which guides growth.

“One of the goals is to have more ground-oriented housing and another is to have more commercial fronting, which is highly encouraged because of the pedestrian-oriented traffic relating to the building," Waitt said.

Waitt said he's met with the architect several times to ensure the project meets city guidelines.

But some residents say the vacant lot shouldn’t be developed at all.

Barb Keating, who lives in a building north of the proposed development, said the lot should be purchased by the City of New Westminster to be used for park space or for a community centre, since there will be more demand for park once the St. Mary’s elementary is built.

Keating fears new families moving into the project will cause overcrowding at the elementary.

“The school was planned for 350 students and with the development it will have 500 students or more. Research shows that’s not the ideal size for an elementary school.”

And Lila Wood, chair of the New Westminster Downtown Residents Association, is worried that projects like this will lead to New Westminster losing its small-town feel.

“Our city council seems to be quite devoted to density at any sort of human cost. One of the nice things about New West is that it’s like a small town,” Wood said. “It’s just not the right time or place to put a building on that property.”

Peter Newall of Ballenas said he has addressed traffic concerns by commissioning a traffic study, which will be ready in time for the public hearing.

He has also been working with the city to address residents' concerns, raised earlier, regarding property values and views of the Fraser River. To that end, the width of the building has been narrowed and made taller, so it’s less of an obstruction.

Newall concedes that some residents simply will never be satisfied.

“You meet with the neighbours and try to address concerns as best as you can, but the neighbours near the development don’t want to see anything built on that lot,” he said.

The public hearing is June 27, and if the project is approved, construction will start in early 2012, said Newall, and will take approximatley 18 months to complete.

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