AFTER more than two years of debate, redesign and controversy, it will still be another week before the City of North Vancouver makes a decision on the proposed redevelopment of the Safeway site at Lonsdale and 13th.
City councillors listened to almost six hours of public comment Monday night - the vast majority of speakers in favour of developer Onni's proposal - before voting to defer their discussion and decision until the regular council meeting of Monday, Nov. 26.
"After 15 pages of notes and 93 speakers, I would like time to digest the information I've heard tonight," said Coun. Don Bell before putting forward a motion to defer.
Council members are allowed to discuss the project but they are not allowed to accept any more formal public comment or petitions on the matter now that the consultation period is over.
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. The proposal, which almost doubles the density allowed by the official community plan, follows an even bigger project Onni asked to build in 2010, which council rejected.
In exchange for the increase in density allowed for the site, Onni is offering 44,000 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, green building standards and extra commercial space.
When the last speaker left the mic just before 1 a.m., those urging council to approve the development outnumbered those arguing against it by a ratio of about four or five to one.
The age of the proposal's supporters was markedly younger than most council meeting attendees, with the majority describing themselves as "young professionals."
About half a dozen speakers disclosed that they were either working for or connected to Onni. The developer had been caught astroturfing - manufacturing the appearance of grassroots support - earlier in the process, which critics noted at the onset of the public hearing.
Many who came to speak noted that neither the size, nor the density bothered them, and they looked forward to the addition of childcare space and non-profit housing, the boost that would come to the city's core with such a massive revitalization project and the potential to bring down housing costs in the city by increasing the supply.
Onni also won support from members of the business community, several of whom noted that a lack of commercial office space is already driving large employers off the North Shore. The president of the neighbouring Grande condo's strata council also said the majority of her building's residents approve of Onni's plan, and that it was much improved from the 2010 design, which featured three 180-foot towers.
Several non-profit housing groups also appeared to support the plan. If approved, council will have to select a group to run the units.
While everyone agreed the site, frequently referred to as an "eyesore," is due to be torn down and replaced with new commercial and residential complex, the proposal's critics argued that it is too tall, too dense and too ugly.
"I promised myself 12 years ago I would not come back to council, but on Oct. 26 I opened the North Shore News and saw this monstrosity facing me. I was really angry and I thought I should come address it," said former councillor John Braithwaite who was one of the first to speak.
Braithwaite urged council to hold out until Onni came back with another more suitable project. "It's got to be better designed. Incidentally, developers shouldn't be telling this council, or any council, what they're going to give us and what they're going to get. You've got to listen to what the people are saying," he said.
High on the list of concerns for even cautious supporters of the proposal was traffic ingress. As is, the plan calls for 55 per cent of vehicle traffic to enter the site via Westbound 13th Avenue, and 45 per cent, including all delivery trucks, to enter via 14th - whose residents decried the plan as a traffic nightmare for what is now a pedestrian friendly street.
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