Uptown New West highrise could include separate entrances for renters and owners

A 29-storey building being proposed in uptown New Westminster could be heading to a public hearing in June.

Orr Development Corp. is proposing to build a mixed-used development that includes 142 market strata residential units, 95 secured market rental housing units, and 12,384 square feet (1,250.55 square metres) of at-grade commercial at 616 and 640 Sixth St. At its May 6 meeting, the city’s land use and planning committee passed a motion recommending city council consider a zoning amendment bylaw for first and second readings and forward the bylaw to a public hearing on June 24.

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Emilie Adin, the city’s director of development services, said the committee previously considered a proposal for the site in March 2018. Based on discussion at that meeting, she said was determined that further transportation analysis was warranted, in relation to potential impacts on Princess Street, concerns about commercial loading and city plans for creating a “Great Street” on Sixth Street.

Adin said there have been some changes to the project since it was first considered last year, including: an increase in the number of secured market rental units from 79 to 95; a reduction in the number of market condo units from 158 to 142; a reduction in site coverage from 65 per cent to 53 per cent; and changes to the lobby entrances.

“There is also now two separate but equal lobbies on the ground floor that are available for the rental units and also for the market strata units,” she said. “There is also a proposal for a privately owned, publicly accessible plaza at the northeast corner of the site – that’s meant to address the importance of Sixth Street as a Great Street and also Seventh (Avenue) as a Rotary Crosstown Greenway location.”

Coun. Mary Trentadue, one of three council members on the land use and planning committee, voiced some discomfort about the idea of having separate lobbies and amenity spaces for rental and strata residents.

“It doesn’t feel right to me, but that’s just intuitively. I don’t have anything specific to rely on but it does feel a bit like we are segregating different groups of people, and I am uncomfortable with that,” she said. “I’d like to know more about it. We haven’t had a fulsome conversation about that at the table, so I would have a hard time supporting this without further information on that.”

Trentadue also said she’d like the commercial to be smaller commercial units that are suitable for independent businesses, as that is more suitable for Great Streets. (Great Streets strive to be places where people want to stay awhile, rather than pass through.)

Tim Orr of Orr Development said the family-owned and operated business prefers to have smaller commercial spaces that are suitable for neighbourhood uses in its buildings.

“The lobby entrances are going to be the same specs, the same tile. Everything you can think of is going to be all the same. There’s not like ‘the poor door’ – you hear that term a lot,” he said. “We are appealing to two different users.”

According to Orr, buildings having market condo and market rentals have elaborate cost-sharing agreements, and one of the issues that arises is that stratas are infamous for “pushing off costs” until they’re left with major bills to make repairs.

“We are going to build, own and manage this building for its lifespan,” he said. “We don’t want to have that problem where we have to constantly go to a strata that’s not willing to pony up for something that needs to be done. So that was more of a business decision for us.”

In addition to separate lobby entrances, the rental component would have an indoor/outdoor amenity area at the podium levels that would include garden plots, seating areas, an outdoor kitchen, fireplace and playground, while the strata units would have an indoor/outdoor amenity area on the ground level near the building’s main entrance and on the rooftop, which would include outdoor seating areas.

Coun. Chuck Puchmayr said he understands the developer’s point about renters feeling that owners are looking down on them.

“It happens. It’s a historic class struggle,” he said. “If we can make that comfortable and it means a different entrance, I have no problem with that. You make a good point about the stratas, how they (boards) come and go and the costs.”

Trentadue said the developer provides some interesting insights about the plan for separate lobbies, but she’d like staff to provide more information about the issue when reporting back to council.

“For me, it’s a philosophical issue. I feel like we are still suggesting renters – and I know you are not saying this – but it still smacks a little bit like renters and not renters should not be in elevators together,” she said. “I just feel like we are never going to overcome this if we continue to feed into it. I think this is a good project. I support it in all other ways.”

Mayor Jonathan Cote said this is the first time there’s been an application for separate entrances for owners and renters in a New West building, but it’s been a hot topic in some communities. Because separate entrances could become a more common proposal in the future, he said the city should start developing policy around the issue.

“I think there’s no reason why a rental building and strata building can’t share a lobby and elevators – I can actually see that as being really positive. Having said that, I think the applicant does make a good case about cost-share agreements about maintenance,” he said. “I know, living in a strata, how difficult it can be to do some of those things.”

Staff is aiming to provide council with a report about the rezoning application at its May 27 meeting.

 “There is a lot of anxiety in that community. I think it’s time to move forward with this,” Puchmayr said. “I don’t wish to delay this.”

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