City seeking to put lanes off major arteries

Brian Lowka, owner of Faserit Construction, predicts many residents will be in for a surprise next time they apply for a permit from the city. - Grant Granger/NewsLeader
Brian Lowka, owner of Faserit Construction, predicts many residents will be in for a surprise next time they apply for a permit from the city.
— image credit: Grant Granger/NewsLeader

Some New Westminster property owners are being asked to set aside some of their land for potential laneways before the city will issue a building or development permit.

It’s a policy that local builder Brian Lowka believes is comparable to expropriation by bureaucratic blackmail, and is one he says has been applied inconsistently by the city.

Engineering director Jim Lowrie said in an email the city wants to build lanes for blocks on busy routes that don’t have them so residents can have safer access to their homes.

To accomplish this they’re asking any property owner on affected streets making a permit application to provide a statutory right-of-way at the rear of their properties before their permit is approved.

While they retain ownership of the strip of property set aside, they can't build anything on it and they won't be compensated if the city takes it over to build a lane.

Lowka says he’s been building homes in New Westminster for 15 years and hadn’t run into this before. But when he went to get the approvals to build a duplex at 612 13th Street, he was told about the requirement because a strip of land would be needed for a future lane between Sixth Avenue and Nanaimo Street.

He was baffled because he’d built some duplexes just a few doors down on Nanaimo a few years ago and hadn’t been asked for the right-of-way even though the block doesn’t have a lane. In addition, a duplex was built just a few years ago on the property next door at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 13th Street with a garage where the lane would go.

“There’s a lot of new houses that should have had this requirement, meaning the lanes will never go in,” said Lowka, who owns Faserit Construction. “They’ve missed the boat on this.”

Eugene Wat, manager of infrastructure planning, agreed the city hasn’t been consistent in getting the agreements. However, he wouldn’t admit there was a lack of communication between the engineering and planning departments in carrying out the policy.

“In the past we certainly have missed opportunities to obtain statutory rights of ways. In terms of getting it, we try to do it more opportunistically, we’re not trying to disturb a home,” said Wat. “It minimizes the impact on the owner’s ability to build, it doesn’t affect square footage. They still retain the ability to build, they just cannot build on that part.”

Wat would not give a time frame on how long the city believes it will take before they will start building any of the lanes where they’re needed.

Lowka believes the city has gone this route because it can’t afford to expropriate, and that many more property owners in the city will be surprised when they discover what’s in store when they go to get permits.

“They’re doing a pretty good job of keeping this quiet,” Lowka said. “It really is a huge, huge deal. I’ve tried to explain this to the city. I told them, ‘I hope you understand you’re going to piss a lot of people off.’”

Wat said the city wants to build lanes for major streets that don’t have them currently so residents don’t have to back out of their properties onto busy roads.

Besides Sixth Avenue, other possible routes that could use lanes include Eighth and Tenth avenues and 12th and Sixth streets.

Lowka says he hasn’t signed anything with the city, and plans to address city council on the issue in February.

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