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Massive Port Moody rental project a missed opportunity for more affordable units: councillor

The project would see two 39-storey towers with 857 rental apartments constructed next to the Moody Centre SkyTrain station.
Vancouver-based PCI Developments is proposed to build two 39-storey towers with 857 rental units adjacent to the Moody Centre SkyTrain station.

A Vancouver developer's proposal to build 857 new rental apartments in downtown Port Moody has sparked a review of the city's inclusionary zoning policy that was adopted just last year.

During their first chance Tuesday, Nov. 21, to provide feedback on a plan by PCI Developments to construct the apartments in two 39-storey towers adjacent to the Moody Centre SkyTrain station, some councillors expressed dismay only 43 of the apartments will be made available at below-market rates.

But the city's policy requiring new developments of a certain size to include at least 15 per cent affordable units doesn’t apply to projects with 100 per cent rental apartments.

That's a missed opportunity in a project of such magnitude, said Coun. Haven Lurbiecki, who pointed out skyrocketing rents in Metro Vancouver means many of the new units will be unattainable for prospective tenants.

"We need affordable housing," she said.

Coun. Amy Lubik agreed.

"We need to look at ways to make sure inclusionary zoning doesn’t take away from our opportunity to negotiate," she said.

But Mayor Meghan Lahti lauded PCI's pitch for 43 affordable units.

"No one else is going to come forward with a 100 per cent rental building," she said. "They are going above and beyond our policy to provide an amount of affordable rental units when they don't need to."

Coun. Diana Dilworth cautioned ratcheting up expectations for affordable units could dissuade smaller developers from building in Port Moody.

"There's a difference between demanding affordable housing and negotiating for it," she said.

The height of PCI's project — 13 storeys above what was envisioned for the neighbourhood in Port Moody's official community plan (OCP) — also gave Lurbiecki pause.

"If we approve 39 storeys, future applications will just get higher," she said. "People have been loud and clear they don't want to see this."

Other councillors said they could live with the height, but would like to see the buildings make more of an architectural statement.

"This is going to be one of the first pieces of the skyline for Moody Centre and I think this is an opportunity for some exciting architecture," Lubik said.

"I would love to see this be a real piece of art in our community that makes people say, 'That's a cool building,'" added Coun. Callan Morrison.

Still, Lahti said, the project has much going for it, including PCI's plan to include a 40,000 sq. ft. grocery store, daylighting Slaughterhouse Creek and constructing a new community plaza next to the SkyTrain station along with a new pedestrian bridge over the tracks to Murray Street.

"There's a lot of really great things about this application," she said.

Coun. Kyla Knowles said she’s excited about new studio spaces for artists that will also be part of the project.

PCI will now be able to consider council’s comments before bringing its application for the zoning and OCP amendments required for the project to proceed back for first and second reading. If it passes those, residents will then get a chance to weigh in at a public hearing, something Dilworth said they should have the opportunity to do.

"I think this will be a really timely and valuable conversation with our residents," she said.