WHAT could be one of the most ambitious development projects in the City of North Vancouver's recent history is going to the public for consideration.
Despite a substantial list of concerns with Onni's proposal for two condo towers atop commercial and retail space at the Safeway site at Lonsdale Avenue and 13th Street, council voted 5-2 in favour of sending the project for public feedback on Monday night.
The public will be asked for input on the proposed 344-unit towers measuring 180 feet and 240 feet (73 metres) in height, at a special public hearing on Nov. 19.
The vote followed a delegation from three neighbours who urged council to vote against the motion on the grounds that the residential buildings were too tall, too dense and would create havoc for cars and pedestrians on the otherwise quiet 14th Street. Slightly more than 1,000 residents have signed a petition rejecting a development that would "devastate" the quiet street.
In exchange for the increase in density allowed for the site, Onni is offering 10,000 square feet of non-profit housing, childcare space, a $1million contribution to the city's amenity fund, a connection to the Lonsdale Energy Corporation, infrastructure upgrades to the surrounding streets and traffic signals, $250,000 in public art, green building standards and extra commercial space.
Coun. Guy Heywood offered the idea of deferring the vote until after council had a workshop on its density bonusing policy, scheduled for the end of this month. "This project is probably the most important one we in the little City of North Vancouver are going to deal with, so if we end up taking more time to get it right, it's not time wasted," he said.
Heywood's suggestion found no takers, however. Couns. Rod Clark and Pam Bookham voted against the motion, saying that after two years the proposal still too many problems.
"I don't believe a workable traffic plan with respect to the project is in place as yet, and without that, it's premature to go to a public hearing," Clark said.
The density was "far too high," he added, noting that he would prefer to see more open space, similar to the plaza next to city hall. The proposal, as is, would look like a "concrete bunker block" he said.
"I feel very, very sorry for the people who live on 14th Street, or anywhere near it," he said.
Clark also lobbed a challenge for Coun. Linda Buchanan and Mayor Darrell Mussatto to avoid the discussion on the grounds that they accepted sizable campaign donations from Onni's parent company during the 2011 election. While it wouldn't amount to a legal conflict of interest, Clark said, "morally and ethically, it stinks."
Bookham agreed on the density issue, and added that it wasn't clear the city needed all the amenities Onni had bargained with for density bonusing.
But, the project is not as dense as some other ones council has approved, Coun. Craig Keating noted, including the Vista towers. And the city is in need of the perks Onni is offering in exchange for density, he said.
Public response to Onni's proposal has trended positive since the original plan for three towers was scrapped more than a year ago, Mussatto noted before the vote.
"This project has been in the works for over two years. It's been in the public eye for much of that. It's been in our design panels a number of times. It's had public and town hall meetings and been to city council a number of times. I think it's time we move on - get going with this and make some decisions," he said.
As for the lingering concerns about traffic, Mussatto said he was confident those could be resolved through the public hearing.