Two more towers set to rise at Suter Brook

Onni Development Corp.'s Brendan Yee said being allowed to add a second 26-storey tower to its final property at Suter Brook would help make the development “a legacy project” for his company.

But some neighbours and opponents said it would create a traffic nightmare that would diminish their quality of life.

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Tuesday, a majority of Port Moody councillors said the prospect of attaining 76 new rental units — 50 of them to be made available at affordable rates geared to household income levels as established by BC Housing — was just too good to pass up as they gave third reading to a bylaw to amend the city’s land use contract with Onni to allow the construction of two 26-storey condo towers and a six-storey rental building to proceed at 300 Morrissey Rd.

For allowing the added density, the city will also receive $15 million from the developer to help fund community amenities such as sports fields, a 12,000-sq. ft. public park and playground within the development; plus $500,000 for a public art fund. Onni will also build a signalized northbound left-turn lane at Ioco and Capilano roads to help relieve traffic congestion as well as a multi-user pathway linking directly to the Inlet Centre SkyTrain station less than 400 metres away.

But it was the rental units that won over all but councillors Hunter Madsen and Rob Vagramov as they considered the proposal following a public hearing that heard from about 70 speakers over the course of more than four hours.

By the time the mic at the front of Inlet Theatre was finally turned off at 11:15 p.m., support and dissent for the proposal from those speakers was split almost evenly.

“There is a desperate need for more homes for renters,” Coun. Diana Dilworth said of Onni’s pitch, adding, “It’s one strong, small step that Port Moody is addressing the housing affordability issue.”

Mayor Mike Clay lauded Onni’s offer of 76 rental units as “the best opportunity we’ve had in my 13 years on council.”

But Vagramov said the deal wasn’t good enough to make up for tearing up a land-use contract for three four-storey buildings that dates to 1978 and had already been amended once to allow Onni to build a tower on the site.

“I see this project as a developer asking for too much in return for too little,” Vagramov said, adding Onni was “playing politics with affordable housing.”

Madsen said the Onni proposal offered council an opportunity to send a message.

“This is a moment to change the conversation with developers,” he said. “They need to understand affordable housing is a responsibility.”

Onni’s Yee said his company is doing just that by designating 50 of the rental units as affordable, with rents ranging from $1,000 a month for one of 12 studio apartments to $1,652 for one of the six 3-bedroom units.

He said such an accommodation is “unprecedented,” adding the larger scope for the project is also a response to the growing need for housing in the region that is easily accessible to transit. In fact, he said, each unit in the new development will come with a $500 preloaded Compass card to use on transit.

Several speakers during the public hearing — many of them younger — said proposals like Onni’s are exactly what they’re looking for if they’re to have any hope to live in Port Moody.

“The city needs to provide a reasonable chance to live in the community, and right now it’s not accessible to a lot of people,” said Alex King, who grew up in Port Moody.

Other speakers decried the problems that could come with the development’s increased density, including more cars fighting for space with trucks and garbage dumpsters on Suter Brook’s narrow street network; blocked views; greater levels of noise and pollution; and longer shadows.

“This is a real concern,” said one.

Another even lamented the fate of migratory birds that will have to contend getting around another highrise.

“They are part of the community as well,” he said.

With the contract amendment receiving third reading, city staff will now draft two housing agreement bylaws for the market and non-market rental units to set out detailed parameters for the operation of those units. Once those bylaws are adopted by council, a development permit will be issued.

Port Moody’s general manager of planning and development, André Boel, said: “It is difficult to predict the timing” of when that, along with the issuance of other permits like excavation, foundation and building, will happen.

Meeting went long into the night

Interest in Tuesday’s public hearing and subsequent council debate on the Onni Group’s request to amend its land-use contract for its final parcel of property in Suter Brook was so high, speakers were lined up out the doors of the Inlet Theatre to register.

Port Moody Fire Chief Ron Coulson counted heads to make sure fire safety regulations weren’t being violated.

And when the venue’s seats were filled, a monitor and more seats were set up outside the Inlet Theatre in the galleria.

With more than 70 people signed up for the opportunity to speak for up to five minutes each on the proposed amendment that would allow Onni to build two 26-storey condo towers and a six-storey rental building at 300 Morrisey Dr., the public hearing had the potential to last as long as six hours.

The most vocal and impassioned opposition to Onni’s request came from Suter Brook residents, many of whom took the opportunity to air their grievances and frustrations with traffic congestion in the development, poor management of garbage disposal and truck deliveries to businesses, and poor construction quality.

One, Horst Zimmerman (read his letter to the editor), presented several petitions he claimed had more than 400 signatures. Another accused Mayor Mike Clay of having the “attitude of a monarch” for not heeding the opposition of the community to Onni’s proposal.

As the clock edged past 11:30 p.m., council decided to move its third reading of the land-use amendment to the top of its agenda, after the usual introduction of a piece of art done by a local artist and public input. The rest of the agenda items will be deferred to future council meetings. 

Some of those include: the ratification to spend $50,000 for a local shuttle bus service pilot project connecting Inlet Centre and Moody Centre this summer; a proposal to redevelop the Inlet Field complex; and a scope for developing the city’s beaver management plan.

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