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‘City policies clash’

Empty lot at 314 Agnes St. where a developer proposes to build a 204-unit, two-building market rental complex. - Grant Granger/NewsLeader
Empty lot at 314 Agnes St. where a developer proposes to build a 204-unit, two-building market rental complex.
— image credit: Grant Granger/NewsLeader

A rental development proposal shows some city policies compete against each other, say two councillors.

Developer Raj Sandhu has applied to build a 204-unit, two-building rental housing complex at 314 Agnes St.

It will be kitty-corner to Qayqayt elementary currently under construction. It’s a switch from his initial proposal in March 2013 for a 158-unit strata complex.

The project is the fifth proposal the city has received in the Downtown area since adopting a policy to encourage rental development in February 2013.

Before that none was built in New Westminster for 13 years, according to a staff report.

The latest proposal calls for 41 fewer two-bedroom units, 11 fewer three-bedrooms and 105 more one-bedrooms than the previous plan.

But the city’s community plan for the area calls for it to be more family-friendly.

It also allows for higher density because of its proximity to SkyTrain stations.

The report also noted the two buildings look like one massive block.

That would be against the city’s desire for attractive and usable open space, wrote planner Barry Waitt.

Couns. Jonathan Coté and Jaimie McEvoy say the applications prove the city’s new rental incentive policy is working. But it’s also clashing with its family friendly housing and urban design policies.

“We’ll be looking to fix that,” said McEvoy.

“We have to do some type of assessment of what the needs of the developers are of this type of building. We don’t want to chase them away and we don’t want to come up with something that is substandard and just warehouses people.”

Coté said he would be open to discussing being flexible on density.

“We have an example here of where we have competing community goals,” said Coté.

“We should be open to the increased density because that is one of things we have been contemplating there.”

The Agnes Street developers said more units make it economically feasible.

A similar argument was made by the Degelder Group when it proposed its fourth Plaza 88 tower be rental housing featuring mostly studio and one-bedroom units.

“One issue that is facing us is there are trends occurring that we don’t have a handle on and one of them is smaller units,” said Coun. Bill Harper.

“I really don’t have an understanding of why that’s taking place. I don’t know if the kind of money they’re making is actually larger or are they trying to meet a need.”

Harper said it’s critical the city get its head around what the optimum split in size of rental units would be for projects.

McEvoy and Mayor Wayne Wright said good design components can provide a sense of space and separation.

“It is possible to have a 300 to 400 square foot [unit] with open spaces and that makes a big difference,” said Wright. “Some of us think 850 square feet is small for a two bedroom or three bedroom, but that trend is actually coming down.”

Council said larger units should be encouraged in the Agnes Street proposal because it’s so close to a new school.

“That kind of skews my thinking on how I go toward this,” said Wright.

Don Andrew of Creekside Architects noted the proposal has 28 three-bedroom units in prime corner spots. He added high rent on larger units reduces the demand.

“Suddenly it looks like a mortgage on a townhouse in Queensborough.”

Council approved the staff recommendation to continue to work with Andrew and West Fraser owner Raj Sandhu on addressing the city’s concerns.

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