SUPPORTERS, critics and everyone in between will have a rare second chance to bend City of North Vancouver council's collective ear on Onni Group's proposed development for the Lonsdale Safeway site.
Council members voted 4-3 Monday night to hold a second public hearing, likely near the end of January, following charges the original public hearing held last week was unfair, and many who would have liked to have spoken did not get a chance.
The motion came from Coun. Guy Heywood, who said, despite the first public hearing running almost six hours, he still hadn't heard enough from the public on the matter. "Whether or not our hearing has flaws or is contestable or creates risks for the city down the road, I think out of an abundance of caution, to allay any concerns our process is not above reproach, we need to have another public hearing," Heywood said.
Council members will still be able to consider the comments they received at the first public hearing held last week, and all of the relevant petitions and letters commenting on the project remain part of the public consultation. But a new public hearing means everyone will be welcome to come and have their five minutes at the mic for their first or second time.
Onni is proposing to build 344 condo units in two towers measuring 180 and 240 feet in height, atop a commercial podium including a new grocery store, as well as 40,000 square feet of office space.
In exchange for the increase in density allowed for the site - almost double what the official community plan states - Onni is offering 10,000 square feet of non-profit housing (approximately 12 units), childcare space, a $1-million contribution to the city's amenity fund, a connection to the Lonsdale Energy Corporation, infrastructure upgrades to the surrounding streets and utilities, $250,000 in public art, and green building standards.
Couns. Craig Keating and Linda Buchanan and Mayor Darrell Mussatto voted against holding a second hearing, but Heywood, along with Couns. Don Bell, Rod Clark and Pam Bookham won the struggle.
"This first one was hijacked. It was hijacked by the developer and I know people don't like to hear that but that's what happened," said Clark, referring to an Onni employee who came to city hall and signed up dozens of supporters to speak at the meeting, ". . . and that precluded a lot of people who honestly came here to give us their opinion from speaking because it got too damn late, and they went home."
Mussatto allowed seniors and attendees with family commitments to have the first chance to speak at last week's public hearing and gave attendees several "last chances" to approach the mic before the public hearing ended just before 1 a.m.
The project had many lingering problems for Bell, including increased truck traffic on 14th Street, shading on Stella Jo Dean Plaza and the placement of commercial units along the streetscape, but the height and density of the buildings were not on his list of concerns.
"I don't want to see the bylaw defeated. I don't want to see it go ahead in exactly the form it is. I'm hoping there's an opportunity for some modification that can take place by virtue of amendment," he said.
But those items could still be addressed and changed even after a council vote to give the necessary bylaw amendments a second reading, Keating noted, as long as the changes don't alter the land use or increase the density. "I think it's time to roll up our sleeves and start problem-solving about (those issues). If there's a majority on this council who think that the mix of uses is right, the density is right. . . . I say let's move ahead on that front," he said.
If approved, the project will be a "significant transformation" to central Lonsdale, which will be inherently controversial, Buchanan acknowledged, but council should proceed with the vote it was elected to hold, she said. "I don't think delaying decisions is necessarily good leadership."
Simply having a second public hearing will put the amenities the city has bargained for at risk, Mussatto noted. "If it does come back smaller, we would lose a lot of the amenities the city is banking on here," he said.
Bookham had asked the provincial ombudsperson to intervene and delay Monday's vote, but the request was rejected.
This is the second time Onni has pitched a massive development for the site. Council roundly rejected the last, much larger proposal in 2010.