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Latest Port Moody council clash leaves proposed new daycare spaces in limbo

A mixed-use condo project in Port Moody that includes 49 spaces in a non-profit daycare is in limbo when several city councillors abruptly departed Tuesday's meeting, leaving the gathering short of a quorum. It's just the latest in a series of conflicts amongst the city's elected officials
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An artist's rendering of a proposed condo project on St. Johns Street in Port Moody, just east of the police stations

A mixed-use condo project that would bring 49 non-profit daycare spaces to Port Moody is in limbo after a council meeting to discuss the proposal collapsed in disarray on Tuesday (May 25).

The project, by the Vancouver-based developer Buffalo Group, would see a six-storey, L-shaped condo constructed on St. Johns Street, just east of the police station.

Its 197 units would include 44 market rental apartments as well as an additional six — three two-bedroom and three one-bedroom apartments — to be made available at shelter rates as low as $375 a month.

And about half the project’s 9,000 sq. ft. of commercial space on its ground floor would be occupied by a non-profit daycare to be managed by the YMCA.

Several councillors praised the project’s amenity package as a “new standard” for the city.

“This is a gift,” said Coun. Diana Dilworth.

But others said it doesn’t go far enough to address Port Moody’s need for employment spaces while disproportionately adding to congestion on the city’s roads and nearby Rocky Point Park.

“I think they can do better. Give the community a better deal,” said Coun. Hunter Madsen.

In fact, a member of the proponent’s team indicated a better deal might be forthcoming as the developer made an 11th-hour request to postpone Tuesday’s public hearing that preceded the council meeting.

Chi Chi Cai, a senior planner with Brook Pooni Associates, told council that the Buffalo Group has agreed to look further into a previous council request to boost the number of affordable units in the project but it needed more time to amend its proposal, which received first and second reading in February.

She said the company would also consider options like a rent-to-own program to help first-time home buyers acquire condo units.

But elected officials were split on whether council should reschedule the public hearing.

Coun. Meghan Lahti said it behooved council to hold off on further consideration of the Buffalo Group’s plan so it and the public could know the full scope of the proposal before weighing in any further.

However, Mayor Rob Vagramov said the developer had ample time to put forth its revisions.

“It would be nice if it wasn’t the day of to notify us of any changes,” he said, adding council could always postpone any decision on the project after the public hearing concluded.

Kate Zanon, Port Moody’s general manager of community development, reminded councillors that if the public hearing proceeded, any changes to the proponent’s plan would necessitate another public hearing.

Added city manager Tim Savoie, “When an OCP [official community plan] application gets to public hearing, typically it’s quite nailed down.”

During the public hearing, councillors heard several people express concerns about increased traffic congestion in the neighbourhood.

Some residents across St. George Street, along the back of the proposed development, said they were worried about their three-storey townhouse complex being overshadowed by the new building’s six storeys.

But others praised the proposal as a “sustainable, family-oriented project” that offered affordable homes near schools and transit.

Madsen said while he found “a lot of things to like” about the project, he suggested the developer could still afford to shave three storeys off the backside of the development and boost its affordability program while also retaining the non-profit daycare.

That prompted Coun. Zoe Royer to point out the developer had already complied with a previous council request to set back the upper three floors of the wing along St. George Street.

“We asked for changes. They made the changes,” she said. “It’s that level of uncertainty that makes it difficult for folks that want to invest in our community.”

Dilworth characterized the determination of some of her council colleagues to go through with the public hearing — then try to further revise the project themselves — as unfair and disrespectful to the proponent.

“We tied their hands,” she said.

Lahti said the process had devolved into something “really quite deplorable.” She added, “We don’t know what it is the developer has to offer, yet we’re willing to proceed without that knowledge.”

After her motion for council to defer any decision on the project until city staff has a chance to meet with the developer to discuss its proposed revisions was defeated, Lahti, Dilworth and Royer left the meeting within moments of each other.

In an email to Tri-City News, Lahti denied the sudden absence of the three councillors was a coordinated effort. But she did say councillors are trying to adhere to an agreed-upon determination that meetings shouldn’t go beyond 11 p.m.

With only Vagramov, Madsen and Coun. Steve Milani still in attendance (Coun. Amy Lubik was already absent), there was no longer quorum for the meeting to continue.

The fracas is just the latest in a series of recent council imbroglios that has included councillors withholding their support for extending meetings as debates dragged on into the night, as well as accusations of ethical breeches, misogyny and homophobic slanders.

After a particularly heated exchange between Madsen and Royer in April, the latter called for a strengthening of the code of conduct council adopted in 2018 — the first city in British Columbia to do so — and even enforcement from a higher authority, like the province.

“I think it’s imperative for good leaders to bring civility to the decision-making table,” Royer said.

In an earlier email to Tri-City News, Vagramov said he refuses to comment on any “drama coverage” about council, a tactic he reiterated prior to another recent meeting.

Lahti acknowledged there “has been some friction,” but she added she’s hopeful the grievances can be resolved “in a respectful manner.”

Dilworth said she’s also optimistic council can get back on track.

“We have all committed to working better,” she said. “We just need to find common ground and recognize the good in each other and work for the best interests of the community.”

Councillors are scheduled to attend a professional guidance workshop in June to help “improve effective and respectful communication.”