A new "megaproject" proposal for Central Lonsdale was abruptly suspended by a divided City of North Vancouver council April 16, pending completion of the updated official community plan.
The proposal, tabled by Kenwood Apartments, would have seen a pair of three-storey apartment blocks on Eastern Avenue replaced with a 19-storey condominium tower and a six-storey rental apartment building. The idea has now been shelved until further notice.
City staff made the unusual move of presenting the application to council well in advance of any detailed design work, seeking permission to continue talks with the developer and schedule a town hall-style meeting.
City development planner Carl Purvis told council "the intent of staff was that given the substantial nature of the request - it's an area with a (floor surface ratio) of 1.6 and the request is to jump up to 4.2 - it would be prudent to notify council of the application and get some preliminary feedback," he said.
The plan would involve demolishing the '60s-era lowrises at 1536 and 1550 Eastern Avenue, meaning the city would lose a total of 34 rental suites. They would be replaced, however, by 56 rental units in the proposed six-storey apartment building. This would be in addition to the 140 condominiums contained in the much larger proposed tower. The ground floors could either be commercial space or townhomes.
The developer is asking the city to exclude all of the market rental suites from its density calculations, along with a 1,300-square foot community-use room. The whole project would create 163,526 square feet of floor space, more than three and a half times what the OCP currently allows on the lots.
In another scenario offered to the city, Kenwood could simply knock down the existing buildings and put up four storeys of condominiums within the OCP limits.
"We are looking at 4.2 FSR," said Coun. Rod Clark. "But because of the exclusion of rental housing and amenities space, the development will be massed and perceived as 5.69 FSR. . . . That's a huge building on a very tiny piece of land."
Coun. Pam Bookham said the public is exhausted by a series of major consultation events and said council should think long and hard before allowing aging rental buildings to face a wrecking ball.
"We need to give our heads a shake," she said. "That's where our truly affordable housing lies and we need to hang on to it for as long as we can."
Coun. Guy Heywood described the proposal as "another megaproject in a very narrow area of the city."
"We do need a discussion," he said, "about what the city does when it takes community property, the airspace above existing zoning, and basically conveys it to a developer in return for something. There's a choice being made as to whether we are going to subsidize market rental housing. 'Market' means a business. It verges on illegal for the city to be subsidizing a business."
Heywood said the project would effectively turn a public asset into a private good.
Coun. Craig Keating disputed Heywood's position and said "the provision of market rental housing is a community benefit."
He pointed out there is already similar density on the Lonsdale corridor and called for a "rational, evidence-based discussion" on rental housing policy. "I think we should not listen to folk wisdom, but to rental housing advocates," he said.
"It's a tall building," said Mayor Darrell Mussatto, "but it's a tall building in a place where tall buildings should be."
Council voted 5-2 to shelve the application, with Keating and Mussatto dissenting.
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