Council keen on Larco waterfront land plans

A new concept for the Larco site on the New Westminster waterfront reduces the number of towers from five to three, and would add two acres to Westminster Pier Park. - Image Courtesy City of New Westminster
A new concept for the Larco site on the New Westminster waterfront reduces the number of towers from five to three, and would add two acres to Westminster Pier Park.
— image credit: Image Courtesy City of New Westminster

Three tall skinny towers on the riverfront are much more preferable to five highrises resembling jail cell bars, in the opinion of New Westminster city council.

The latest vision for the property between the Fraser River Discovery Centre and Westminster Pier Park revealed Monday is for three structures ranging from 25 to 45 storeys. They would contain 800 residential units that planners say would protect sight lines from Downtown vantage points. The conceptual plan also calls for a two-acre addition to Westminster Pier Park, a 30-foot wide esplanade, boat moorage and provision for a 150-room hotel.

“Wow, what an exciting project compared to what was permissible on that site before,” said Coun. Chuck Puchmayr.

The property’s owners, Larco Investments, received approval from council in 2005 for five towers containing about 1,000 units stacked along the Fraser River but there’s been no movement on the project since then. This past summer, the city approached Larco to come up with a different vision that would protect sight lines, improve the connection to Downtown for city residents and be financially viable for the developer.

“The fact the property owner has come to the table and had some good discussions with us is a positive thing,” said Coun. Jonathan Coté, who noted the plans have received a lot of positive feedback on social media with the biggest concern being a 45-storey tower.

But it’s not necessarily going to be built out any time soon.

Larco director of development Art Phillips said the company had been sitting on the property because it was too risky financially but is always willing to talk to a municipality about its vision for their property. While the market hasn’t quite reached a level the company would be comfortable proceeding with, Phillips does believe that time is not far off.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a long way away, our hope is it’s within the next two or three years,” said Phillips. A key component for Larco to make it viable is the city demolishing the western half of the Front Street parkade. Council on Monday finalized its Downtown Parking Strategy which included city staff working on putting it into the 2014 budget.

As well as being a visual deterrent to the project’s marketability, the parkade also produces undesirable echoing from trucks passing underneath it.

Removing the parkade is also why Larco was willing to put its parking underground, although it will cost a premium to do so. Previous plans called for the access to the property to be elevated 2 1/2 storeys to line up with the parkade. But he pointed out the new Pier Park changed that because it wouldn’t look right to have everything elevated.

Phillips said underground parking on the banks of the Fraser River can be accomplished by using interlocking piling to seal off the property from the waterway. It’s then drained and whatever soil is left excavated so construction can begin.

“There is a premium to do this,” said Phillips.

Another factor reducing the risk for Larco was TransLink’s decision not to pursue the North Fraser Perimeter Road, which would have gone down Front Street.

Phillips said there are some aspects of the previous plan Larco would have liked to have retained.

“Ideally we would have been back to the five (towers), but I recognize the desires of the community of wanting to increase the green space,” said Phillips.

Plans call for Quayside Drive to connect with Begbie Street and also extend into the project. Senior planner Mark Allison said there would be two turnabouts on Quayside that would allow traffic stuck at rail crossings to turn around to access the McInnes Street and Third Avenue overpasses.

Tower 1 at the west end of the site would be the first to be built and would include about 80 underground public parking stalls.

If Larco can find someone to run a hotel it would be in Tower 2, which would be the tallest of the three. Plans call for the third tower to have a child care facility capable of handling 40 children.

Senior planner Jackie Teed said during construction of the first two towers surface parking for Westminster Pier Park will continue to be available on the site.

However, it will become an issue when Tower 3 is being built because that would eliminate all of the existing stalls. By that time, however, the public stalls in Tower 1 will be available, and there are plans for a stairway and elevator connecting the park to the Front Street parkade at the foot of Fourth Street which is currently in the bidding stage.

Pedestrian access to the park will also continue along the waterfront and may also be augmented at some point with an at-grade crossing at Sixth Street for cyclists, pedestrians and emergency vehicles.

Phillips said a lot will depend on the community reaction to the project.

The first public open house will be held Wednesday, Dec. 11, from 4 to 7 p.m., at the River Market.

“You can never prejudge a community on what their desires are,” said Phillips.

“I’m hoping the public would be supportive of the plan.”

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