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'We are putting the cart before the horse,' Coquitlam says of townhome bid

Coquitlam committee torn on townhouse pre-application for Austin Avenue, saying city planning work is still underway for infill housing and future corridor development.

Affordable housing — especially for families — is needed in Coquitlam.

But a bid for a townhouse development along the city’s second busiest street isn’t sitting well with several elected officials.

This afternoon, Sept. 11, council in committee heard about a pre-application to change the Official Community Plan (OCP) and rezone 1591 and 1611 Austin Ave., just south of Vanier Elementary School and Vanier Centre.

David Eaton Architect Inc. wants to build 17 three- and four-bedroom townhomes on the 32,044 sq. ft. consolidated site that’s halfway between Schoolhouse and Poirier streets.

Since 2017, there have been three proposals for one or both of the properties:

  • a subdivision of 1611 Austin Ave. into two single-family lots was approved, but the plan wasn’t registered and the city approval expired
  • a pre-application for a mixed-use development for land along Austin/Poirier that was later withdrawn
  • a pre-application for a multiplex development for the two properties, but was paused because of the city work starting on the South West Housing Review (SWHR) that identifies neighbourhood pockets for more housing

As well, since 2017, the owners of both properties have made “multiple” inquiries with the city about their land development potential, wrote Chris McBeath, Coquitlam’s acting director of development services, in a Sept. 1 report to council in committee.

Now, with the SWHR still underway for the remaining neighbourhood pockets, including Austin–Poirier, plus upcoming provincial legislation to mandate B.C. municipalities to grow with infill housing, as well as the city planning to densify major corridors like Austin Avenue, Como Lake Avenue and Mariner Way, some city councillors said the Austin townhouse proposal is too much, too soon.

Andrew Merrill, Coquitlam’s general manager of planning and development, told the committee that the city typically doesn’t do spot changes while active land-use planning work is underway as it could potentially unleash a precedent and send “conflicting policy directions” to developers, the neighbourhood and the community.

Couns. Brent Asmundson, Matt Djonlic and Robert Mazzarolo spoke against the OCP and rezoning pre-application, with Djonlic urging city staff to “get our ducks in a row before proceeding with this site.”

Asmundson said the city already has 55,000 housing units in the queue and pressure to update this site — in the midst of area work underway — is unwise as it will lead to increased land values, speculation and a public backlash.

'We need more townhomes'

But other councillors said if the plan doesn’t go through, the result will be more single-family homes — a type of housing that Coquitlam is now steering away from.

Coun. Dennis Marsden was blunt with his words.

He said if the SWHR and corridor study come back with recommendations for more multi-family homes, then city planning has failed.

“We need more townhomes,” he urged, adding, “This is part of the solution. I think we need to (a) Be comfortable with spot rezoning or (b) Light a fire under the arterial piece and get it done.”

And while Coun. Trish Mandewo said she’s against spot rezoning, the Austin bid makes sense especially as Coquitlam is in the middle of an affordable housing crisis.

She urged the committee to “stay ahead of the curve.”

“It behooves us now to look at the housing needs. The business case for the developer is there… or they take their business somewhere else.”

“It’s a timing issue,” Coun. Craig Hodge said. “We are putting the cart before the horse on this one…. I’d hate to have a development that doesn’t match [the neighbourhood].”

Merrill said he’d speak with the applicant about the committee’s feedback and see how the company will proceed with the two properties.

A City of Coquitlam video from 2020 that explains the South West Housing Review.