Decision on Onni’s bowling bid delayed

Bowling on Lonsdale ended up in the ball return Monday, with City of North Vancouver council rolling the issue back to city staff.

While council didn’t reject Onni’s bid for a subterranean bowling alley in their 1308 Lonsdale Ave. development, they stopped short of approving underground lanes pending a further staff report.

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In digging out the foundations for 24- and 18-storey towers on the old Safeway site, Onni’s engineers discovered the ground was more forgiving and the excavation less expensive than expected. Realizing they could also satisfy parking and storage requirements on other parts of the site, the developer opted to excavate enough dirt and rock to accommodate a bowling alley, according to Onni development manager Dionne Delesalle.

Developers are free to excavate as they see fit so long as the building’s floor space ratio – which measures total floor space against lot size – is unaffected. The lack of regulation didn’t sit well with Coun. Rod Clark.

“If I was Onni and came in with my excavators, I could dig to China and not have a problem?” Clark asked.

Despite the excavation the bowling alley’s lanes may come up a little short, according to a staff report. Bowling alleys must be a minimum of 107 feet to accommodate regulation lanes. The longest dimension in Onni’s excavated space is about 98 feet, requiring a “non-traditional layout” that is considered “less than ideal,” according to a staff report.

“It’s a mini bowling alley,” Clark said. “On that basis alone, I’m against it.”

Bowling is enjoying a resurgence, according to Mayor Darrell Mussatto.

“Bowling apparently is coming back,” he said.

While Coun. Don Bell suggested the building’s tenants could use the space as extra storage, the mayor suggested the city would get a better return by letting the public use the space.

“I’m not really happy how it came about but it’s there,” Mussatto said.

The alley also found support from Coun. Holly Back, who suggested the venture would provide much-needed recreation for Central Lonsdale families.

City staff devised two different deals for the alley, including one that would hinge on a density transfer with Onni buying $275,940 worth of density from a city-owned site at the foot of Lonsdale. Under that deal the city would forego the approximately $1.1 million they could make by selling the waterfront land for condos.

Back opposed taking density from the waterfront. Discussing the issue in April, Back suggested the city would need to find another site for a density transfer or get Onni to “up the ante.”

On Monday Back said she favoured a deal that would exclude the bowling alley from floor area calculations, similar to the way below-grade cellars aren’t counted in the floor area of new townhouses. Under that deal, Onni would pay the city the same sum, but it would be a voluntary contribution as opposed to a density transfer.

“I think the bowling alley is a good idea. I’m glad to see that the city would be getting $275,000,” Back said.

Onni’s over-excavation presents both practical and theoretical problems, noted Coun. Craig Keating.

“Certainly, I don’t think we allowed anybody to create space for the purposes of an underground, too-short bowling alley,” he said. However, now that the space is there, it behooves the city to do something with the space as opposed to nothing, he argued.

Whatever the city does, they should demand full value for the space, according to Coun. Pam Bookham.

Bookham rebuked the notion council should discount the density because the bowling alley would be a public amenity.

“A business is not a public amenity. This is not like the daycare, it’s not like the affordable housing that was part of this same proposal,” she said.

If the bowling alley is approved, Onni would also have permission to use the space as a health club, billiard hall, dance studio or art gallery.

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