A developer with plans for a major project on the 13th Street and Lonsdale Avenue Safeway site has received city council's OK to restart a public consultation process, despite objection that the plans are still too big.
Onni Group first brought their plans to council in December of 2010, asking to build three 180-foot condominium towers above three storeys of commercial space. The complex would have produced floor space 5.765 times the lot area - more than twice the 2.6 ratio the official community plan currently allows.
Council rejected those plans, and a subsequent revision later in 2011.
On Monday, the development giant returned with a revised proposal. The new plan calls for 344 units in two slimmed-down towers, 180 feet and 240 feet, atop a smaller commercial podium.
In his report to council, community development director Gary Penway wrote that "following extensive discussions with the neighbouring property owners and staff, the applicant has made numerous changes to the application. These have reduced density to 4.5 (floor surface ratio), reduced view impacts and massing, improved pedestrian circulation and public open space access, as well as addressing other specific local concerns."
Onni is also asking the city for a 195,500-square foot density bonus in return for including green building features, a Lonsdale Energy Corporation boiler, new office space, a $1-million contribution to the city's amenity fund, a daycare, and 10 to 15 units of affordable housing that would be "gifted" to a non-profit group.
"I am prepared to support a motion to go to a town hall meeting," said Coun. Don Bell. "There has been a lot of work done and a lot of discussion about this corner, this project, and changes have been made. Whether those changes are appropriate would be ultimately a decision council would make after public consultation."
Bell pointed out that each of the density bonuses requested fall within existing city policy.
"While those benefits are appropriate, they're not all appropriate all over the community. It depends on the neighbourhood. This is the centre of North Vancouver city. It is on a traffic and transit corridor. If you're going to have density - and that's the question on people's minds - that's the place you put it."
Coun. Pam Bookham felt Onni hadn't dialled back the building's size enough.
"I am, quite frankly, very disappointed in the modest reduction in the scale of this development," she said. "Right from the very first time we saw what the applicant was proposing for the site, the message from this council was quite clear - it's just too big."
Bookham said "so little progress over such a long time" indicated that Onni "is not listening."
With the city already soliciting public input on several major development issues, Bookham said moving ahead with consultation on Safeway was a bad choice.
"It's not worth taking to the public so they can tell us once again that's it's too much. We are wasting a tremendous amount of staff time on a project that is not finding favour with our community."
Coun. Linda Buchanan highlighted the city's pressing need for new daycare spaces, and said the Safeway site was the "ideal spot" for a new centre.
Voting in support of the town hall meeting, Buchanan said she wanted to see the city "do a very good job of getting out the people that we want to see, who are actually representative of our community, not have a duplication of what I've seen of late in town hall meetings, which is the same people who attend and tell us the same thing."
Buchanan said she meant no disrespect to frequent town-hall attendees, "but I don't think they are necessarily representative of our entire community. . . .
"We hear the same things, we see the same people who come out over and over again."
Coun. Rod Clark joined Bookham in opposing the town hall meeting, arguing that permitting new density 70 per cent higher than the OCP allows would mean the city would reach its 100-year growth forecasts in only 30 years.
Clark also pressed Mayor Darrell Mussatto on a $5,000 campaign donation he received from Onni's parent company RPMG Holdings and a further $5,000 from Pinnacle International, also owned by the De Cotiis family.
"I don't believe you're in an legal conflict," Clark told Mussatto, "but certainly morally and ethically, it may appear to the people in the community that a $5,000 contribution from a developer that now has a project at the table may be a conflict of interest."
Buchanan also accepted money from the two firms, Clark pointed out. "The developer has done his job well. . . . I'm sure he thinks it's a slam dunk as result. I find that a troubling and sad situation."
Council voted 4-2 to hold a town hall meeting.
Coun. Craig Keating was absent from the meeting.
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