Council narrowly OKs controversial highrise
City council has narrowly given the go-ahead to a controversial Downtown highrise despite vociferous opposition from residents of a nearby building.
More than 20 opponents lined up to speak at a public hearing into a proposal for a 21-storey building at 125 Columbia St., on Monday. Most live in an adjacent highrise at 31 Elliot St., and they told council there wouldn't be enough room for parking and traffic in the area, as well as for construction vehicles to safely maneuvre.
Despite their complaints, council voted by a 4-3 margin to give third reading to the rezoning request from Ballenas Project Management.
Coun. Bill Harper, who supported the proposal along with Lorrie Williams, Jonathan Cote and Mayor Wayne Wright, said 18 months' worth of extensive consultations, including talking to 1,000 people and conducting walking tours showed him it was a worthy project.
The city's Downtown Community Plan calls for densification of areas within five- to eight-minute walks of SkyTrain stations and 125 Columbia fits the bill since it is next to the Columbia station. Harper believes many residents of the building will use transit and not have a vehicle. That's why he was OK with the Ballenas proposal providing approximately one parking stall per unit instead of the 1.5 the city usually requires.
"A lot of people are moving to New Westminster to be close to the SkyTrain stations," said Harper.
Coun. Jaimie McEvoy wasn't OK with it. Although he is a heavy transit user and promotes its use, he opposed the project along with Betty McIntosh and Bob Osterman. McEvoy said even if residents of 20 units have a second car then valuable street parking space will be taken up.
"When you don't have parking access the more pressure you put on the street parking, which has an effect on the outside neighbourhood," said McEvoy.
Densifying downtown has its benefits, but "we want to make sure we do it right," said McEvoy.
"We have a Downtown Community Plan and we should stick to it, but we also have a parking bylaw and we should stick to it, too."
McEvoy used Ginger Drive area and the relatively new Victoria Hill subdivision as examples of places where the city did not require developers to provide adequate parking.
"Today they're completely packed with parked cars. If even one person in Victoria Hill decides to have a party where are they going to park?"
While disappointed at the outcome, Barb Keating, a vocal opponent who lives at 31 Elliot, had mixed feelings about the public hearing.
"Part of me is feeling good that some people heard what we had to say," said Keating. "It's a zoo already, so what's it going to be like with a new buildng and a new school (St. Mary's) behind us? We want to be able to get around here."
She vowed to keep up the fight. She said TransLink outlined a lot of hoops the developer and the city still have to jump through. Keating also said she and other opponents will become involved in the upcoming fall civic election campaign.
"We're going to be very persistent," Keating said. "We will watch to make sure all the regulations are adhered to and it's not just talk."