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Port Coquitlam removes obstacles so fire victims can rebuild their condo quickly

Port Coquitlam council removed a potential red tape delay to rebuilding a burned condo by allowing owners of 2245 Wilson Ave. to rebuild for existing use — without the need to add retail space on the ground floor as required by the Official Community Plan.

Condo owners displaced by a fire at their three-storey complex in downtown Port Coquitlam won't have to rebuild with shops on the ground floor. 

At a special morning meeting today (Aug. 16), PoCo council agreed to waive the requirement by giving second reading to a bylaw amendment that would allow for continuation of the existing use.

That's good news for residents of 2245 Wilson Ave. who were concerned about the risk and cost of adding a retail component to a rebuild.

Under the city's updated official community plan, the ground-floor commercial requirement would be potentially "kicking out" 80 residents on to the street," said resident Shaun Driver, who is a member of the strata council.

That's because the additional cost would have forced many out with "six-digit losses," said Driver.

He applauded the city's decision — which still requires third and forth readings — noting the strata is still waiting for information about the full scope of the rebuilding effort.

"It shows the city’s done what it needs to, to put its residents first," said Driver.

According to a staff report, the zoning bylaw amendment would provide for a site-specific provision for ground-floor residential uses within the three-storey residential building, in order to allow for the site to be "repaired and reconstructed within its existing apartment form, density and uses."

Councillors unanimously agreed to the amendment, stating that it would provide some assurances to the building's former residents who are dealing with a challenging situation.

Mayor Brad West said it provides a clear path for residents if the decision is to rebuild, by allowing without "unnecessary delay" whatever rebuild work they choose.

"The city is not going to do anything to make that a more arduous process."

Bruce Irvine, the city's director of development, said staff came across the potential for a six- to eight-week delay if the project had required a rezoning.

"We were headed to a wall that would have created a delay. We saw it and came up with a solution," Irvine told the Tri-City News.

Council's decision removes any worry about more bureaucratic red tape to see the project through to completion, Irvine said, including meeting a 75 per cent damage threshold under the Local Government Act.

Meanwhile, Driver said the restoration company is still shoring up the building and removing contents, adding that the rebuild plans will likely be a combination of restoration and reconstruction.

Once finalized, the project at 2245 Wilson Ave. will go to public tender and "the hammers will swing," he said.