Plaza 88 proposal panned by staff, councillors

Plaza 88
Plaza 88's proposal for a 39-storey, 396 residential unit tower at 900 Carnarvon St. approaching Downtown New Westminster.
— image credit: Artist rendering

A Plaza 88 proposal for a 39-storey tower full of one-bedroom condominiums that asks the city to deviate from several of its regulations has raised huge red flags at New Westminster city hall.

With three residential towers already built adjacent to the New Westminster SkyTrain station, Plaza 88 Developments is planning to add another on vacant land on the other side of the McInnes Overpass at 900 Carnarvon St.

A report to Monday's council meeting, but not discussed because of time constraints, said Plaza 88 is proposing a tower with 396 residential units, almost quadruple what regulations would allow (102). The preliminary plan is to include 50 studio condos, 336 one-bedrooms and just three two-bedroom units.

The residential floor space would total more than 246,000 square feet, an average of 622.5 per unit. The report notes the proposal meets the total square footage allowed for the project (252,000 sq. ft.), but with only 5,500 set aside for commercial it is asking for 33,000 sq. ft. more than what it is entitled to for residential floor space.

Such a proposal, said the report, would be required to provide 550 parking spaces, while the proposal calls for just 223. It also wants to put the six parking levels above ground to match the parking that services The Shops of New Westminster retail complex.

"While the architect for the development has responded to the stated concern of visible above grade parking with a 'banded weave' treatment around the parking levels, strong concern is still expressed at this 'design solution' to the inherent challenges of permitting above grade parking in a highly urban setting, where an attractive oriented streetscape is important," wrote senior planner Barry Waitt.

The building's height would also be significantly higher than what is allowed. Waitt said if a plan for an iconic, signature structure "which would serve as a beacon at the westerly end of Plaza 88," a height of such magnitude of the proposal could be considered, with the emphasis on the word could.

"Plans have not been submitted which offer justification for consideration of a significant heigh variance from what is currently in the bylaw," Waitt wrote.

Coun. Bill Harper said on Tuesday there are a lot of issues with the proposals that cause concern for him.

"I'm in no way supportive of any height in that nature," said Harper.

He said he has never supported of above-ground parking, even though it costs more to go below grade, especially when it comes to highrises.

The predominance of one-bedroom apartments also goes against the city's desire to build a family neighbourhood throughout Downtown as outlined in its official community plan (OCP).

"Families can't live in one-bedroom condos. Even a couple would want to have two bedrooms and use one as a computer room. It's a huge problem. I wouldn't be supporting it, unless they fall in line in respect to the OCP," said Harper.

Coun. Jonathan Coté, a Downtown resident, said from an urban design point of view above ground parking doesn't work. Neither does the predominance of one-bedroom units.

"It's important that all neighbourhoods have a variety of different demographics in those neighbourhoods," said Coté. "I'd like to see a bit more balance with two bedrooms and even three-bedroom units.

"The developer is obviously looking at their bottom line. In many respects the developer is trying to build a project that is similar to what is next door with regards to the above ground parking … There are a number of requirements in our new OCP that I really think this project needs to conform with."

He isn't as upset about the parking space ratio because the proximity to the SkyTrain line means there will be limited demand for residential parking.

The proposal will likely be discussed when council meets on Monday.

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