PORT Metro Vancouver will still be facing some substantial public opposition when it comes to getting approval for its proposed Low Level Road project at City of North Vancouver council next month.
The city held a special meeting Wednesday night to gather more public feedback and put questions to the proponents of the project, which would see Low Level Road shifted inland and raised to make room for two new rail lines. The project also involves adding sound barriers, bike lanes and completing a section of the Spirit Trail.
Among the issues most frequently raised by residents at the overflowing meeting in council chambers were how noise levels, air pollution and traffic will be affected if the expansion goes ahead.
Sheri Plewes, PMV's vice-president of infrastructure delivery, said the port has study data to show that noise and pollution will be reduced, but the data was contained in separate reports that had not yet been completed - something that rankled council members and critics of the project.
Plewes said adding rail lines would mean waterfront companies wouldn't have to do as much shunting of rail cars, which would result in less noise for residents. The project would also see the elimination of two street-level rail crossings, meaning engineers would not have to blow their whistles as often.
Council was hoping to begin debate on whether to approve the project at its June 11 meeting, though several attendees said the schedule seemed rushed.
Also not happy with the preferred plan as it is exists are East Esplanade Avenue business owners, several of whom came forward to ask council and the port to change the plans for the intersection of East Esplanade and St. Andrews Avenue.
Steve Niewerth, owner of Rack Stop Car Rack Experts, said the plan, as it appears now, presents an untenable situation for Esplanade businesses, cutting parking and access to his and other stores on East Esplanade by as much as 50 per cent.
"For our businesses to be viable, we need parking and access. We do not want to go through a year to two of construction headaches and reduced sales and come out on the other side with less viable businesses," he said.
Plewes said the preferred design for the intersection was arrived at after receiving "overwhelming support" during the consultation process so far, though several council members asked city staff to re-examine options for the intersection and report back before council votes on the project.
The project also had supporters come to speak at the meeting including several employees of companies that operate on the waterfront, all of whom stressed that the changes would create a safer workplace and economic benefits for the transportation and resource industries and the North Shore as a whole.
Council members were largely supportive of the plan though several issues would have to be resolved before they would vote to support it.
Coun. Pam Bookham said the reports on noise, traffic and pollution should have been ready and available for all before the meeting.
"Those needed to be available tonight. They weren't available and we don't know exactly when they'll be available. I want to see that information and the public needs to see that information at least a week before any kind of decision is taken to proceed further down this road."
Coun. Rod Clark said the project is now on the right track but he would not support the motion to go forward until the port had satisfied the city that noise and pollution levels would be reduced.
Mayor Darrell Mussatto closed the meeting by thanking everyone who had contributed to the process and pointed to the huge progress that had been made since the process began.
"We've come to a point where we have a much, much better proposal than we had last year," he said. "This is not going to be perfect for everyone. We've got cyclists and we've got residents, we've got big industry - everybody wants something and I think the port has come back with something that is pretty close to something that we should be seriously considering,"
The $104-million Low Level Road project is being jointly funded by the federal and provincial governments, along with TransLink, the City of North Vancouver, Port Metro Vancouver and some private partners.