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Food for thought for New Westminster's Larco development

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

A community open house in the River Market’s food court gave the city some food for thought on a proposed massive waterfront development.

Access was the top concern among the 100 or so people—many of whom were just wandering through the market—who viewed Larco Investments’ plans for the blacktopped land west of Westminster Pier Park (WPP) last Wednesday.

In 2005, Larco received the go-ahead from the city for a five-tower development lined up across the site, but when the market softened those plans were shelved.

However, subsequent developments have made the site more accessible and more marketable, including New West’s Downtown becoming a bit of a real estate hot spot because of its heritage and proximity to rapid transit, said city senior planner Mark Allison.

He noted the new plans call for three towers, with about 800 units instead of five highrises with 1,000 residences.

Previously it was believed there would be a need for an elevated Quayside Drive extension to serve not only Larco but another eight towers originally planned for the WPP land.

Another recent development is plans from the city to demolish the western half of the Front Street parkade—from Begbie to Sixth streets—possibly as soon as 2014. Also, Larco has decided to go with underground parking for its project instead of above-grade.

With all those developments the city did a complete rethink on access and decided to use the existing roads, extending Quayside Drive and Begbie into the complex, said Allison.

He pointed out that car ownership “is way down” in Downtown, with 30 per cent of residents getting by without cars. Allison said it was determined the new high rises wouldn’t make a significant impact on the Begbie Street crossing, which has not been typically a congested connection.

“It’s not a busy street like Front Street,” said Allison.

Visitors to the Westminster Pier Park will not only be able to access it from the boardwalk in front of the Larco project but via a Sixth Street pedestrian crossing. Forty angled parking spots are expected to be created along Front Street following the parkade demolition. Visitors will also soon be able to get to the park from a new $1.8-million stairway and elevator from the remaining parkade at the foot of Fourth Street that is currently in the bid proposal stage.

Allison said some people are concerned about their views being blocked by the proposed towers, including residents of the Interurban tower at Begbie and Columbia. But he noted that although some views would be affected, instead of a big concrete parkade and parking lot to look at they’ll get another two acres to WPP and an attractive new street.

At the open house he said there was definitely excitement about the new plans. “There were some local people who said, ‘wow, I’ve got to get a unit in one of these buildings.’ “

The complex will have some retail at the ground level as well as a child care space, all of which Allison thinks will be good for River Market and the Fraser River Discovery Centre.

“We think that’s all synergistic, with the market providing more variety and more of a reason to come to the market,” said Allison.

Allison said it will be a phased development, each tower taking two to three years, so he expects it will be about seven to 10 years, depending on market demand, before it’s completed.

He’ll be taking the feedback from the public meeting as well as from presentations to the Quayside Community Board and Downtown New Westminster Residents Association to work with Larco on the project’s technical details such as determining the shape of the buildings and the specific types of units they’ll contain.

Another community open house at the River Market is expected to be held in February.

Larco’s land was rezoned first in 1996, then again in 2005. The current rezoning proposal was at the request of the city, which is seeking to have a development on the water more in keeping with today’s needs. Larco says local market conditions are getting close to being where they need to be in order to build, but the company does not have immediate plans to do so.

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