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Downtown rental tower project may be shelved

Concept drawing of the proposed Plaza 88 Tower 4 at 900 Carnarvon St., in New Westminster. - VIA Architecture
Concept drawing of the proposed Plaza 88 Tower 4 at 900 Carnarvon St., in New Westminster.
— image credit: VIA Architecture

A 36-storey rental tower proposed for Downtown New West may have died long before a shovel hit the ground.

It was to be the fourth highrise in the Degelder Group’s Plaza 88 development connected to the New Westminster SkyTrain station.

But council told project planners VIA Architecture it will not review the plan for 900 Carnarvon St. until they meet several conditions.

VIA urban planner Tom Lancaster said the decision likely means the project won’t proceed.

He said their financing depends upon building studio and one-bedroom units, considered to be more marketable.Tom Lancaster

But council insists on at least 25 per cent two- and three-bedroom units, and no more than half being studio apartments. They also don’t want any units less than 350 sq. ft.

“The timeline now is just thrown out the window. The window just might have closed on it,” said Lancaster.

In the fall, VIA proposed a 40-storey building with 235 studio and 265 one-bedroom units.

But council said the lack of larger units contradict its goal of a family-oriented Downtown.

Tom Lancaster

So VIA came back with a proposal of 36 storeys and 464 units with 290 studios, 116 one-bedrooms and 58 two bedrooms. Fifty-eight studios would be capable of being joined with neighbouring one-bedrooms to create two-bedroom suites. In those cases, the studio suites would be as small as 260 sq. ft.

A city staff report cited similar concepts in resorts and at Simon Fraser University’s UniverCity community.

“The flexible unit was essentially a condominium unit with a legal secondary suite,” wrote planner Barry Waitt. “The approach is considered by staff to be an interesting innovation and worth exploring as a component of the rental housing options.”

Graham McGarva, founding principal of VIA Architecture, told council the proposal is sustainable in the long term and affordable. He emphasized it would be difficult to find renters for two-bedroom suites since rents would be around $2,400 a month.

“To get financing for this kind of rental project is pretty near impossible, so this is the way we have to have it,” said McGarva of the proposal’s emphasis on smaller units.

But unit size isn’t all that matters to the city. There are also concerns about the size of the project’s proposed parking, amenities and storage.

The report suggested staff was spending too much time on the proposal.

Many issues raised after receiving the application in late 2012 remain unresolved and “the latest proposal is even less supportive of certain policies (unit mix, parking, and urban design) in the Downtown Community Plan than was the case with the original submission.”

“How friendly is this development to the family oriented downtown we are trying to create here,” said Coun. Bill Harper. “To me that’s a huge issue.”

But Coun. Lorrie Williams said young adults like smaller units in the right places.

“I’m not too opposed to this,” said Williams. “It seems to be a trend: small being better and saving money for other things.”

Coun. Jonathan Coté said council wouldn’t be comfortable sending the proposal to a public hearing with so many outstanding issues.

“It’s a pretty large development,” Coté said. Obviously it’s an important site next to SkyTrain, and we want to make sure there’s a good development that will be good for years to come.”

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