Decision on Lonsdale highrises deferred after 6-hr public hearing

Proposed Onni project at Lonsdale Avenue Safeway site. - Submitted photo
Proposed Onni project at Lonsdale Avenue Safeway site.
— image credit: Submitted photo

More than 100 people packed a marathon public hearing at North Vancouver city hall Monday night, most waiting hours for a chance to speak about a massive redevelopment project that, if approved, will bring more than 45 storeys of condo, office and retail space to the heart of central Lonsdale.

Developers Onni Group are looking to build a 24-storey and a 17-storey condo tower atop two retail platforms with an adjacent six-storey office building in the 1300 block of Lonsdale Avenue, presently home to the Safeway grocery.

The plan would add about 350 condos to the neighbourhood, a new Lonsdale Energy Corporation plant, a grocery store, a 37-space childcare centre, 926 parking stalls and 715 bicycle parking stalls.

Supporters of the project — which far exceeds current building height and density restrictions for the area — outnumbered naysayers at the hearing 3-1, with 65 people speaking in favour of the Onni development, 21 speaking against, and a handful of residents on the fence.

The hearing was part of a special council meeting dealing solely with the Onni project, after which council were to give second and third readings of two agenda items concerning the development. The first was to amend the city's Official Community Plan to allow greater height and density for the area. The second was to rezone the project lots of 1308 Lonsdale Ave., 130 East 13th St. and 117-133 East 14th St. to allow for comprehensive mixed-use development.

But as the public hearing carried on without interruption into its sixth hour — and with it, into Tuesday morning — and once the 90th and final speaker finished at the microphone, council voted to defer a decision on the project until next Monday, Nov. 26.

Those opposed to the sizeable redevelopment — which would see both the tallest building on the North Shore and a close runner-up built on the same site — took issue mainly with the densification of the neighbourhood and the associated problems of traffic, lack of parking and strain on infrastructure.

Among those opposed were two highly regarded former city councillors, Stella Jo Dean and John Braithwaite.

Braithwaite, for whom the city's John Braithwaite Community Centre is named, slammed the design of the project, calling it a "monstrosity."

Jo Dean, for whom a small park immediately adjacent to the project is named, also panned Onni's plans and criticized the city for what she called the "exorbitant" density bonusing city staff were prepared to allow for a single project.

The bonuses allow developers to surpass things like building-height and density restrictions in return for community amenities such as affordable housing and childcare space, "employment-generating" office space, community art contributions and environmental commitments.

Still others criticized those members of council who, in their 2011 runs for office, accepted campaign donations from Onni parent company RPMG Holdings, calling the matter a conflict of interest. Both Mayor Darrell Mussatto and Coun. Linda Buchanan accepted $5,000 and $1,500 from RPMG, respectively.

Still, supporters of the Onni project overwhelmingly had the strength in numbers Monday, most speaking in favour of the 1308 Lonsdale plan because of its addition of much-needed housing, childcare and new retail space to the area.

Don Peters of North Shore Community Resources was one of many representing social service providers who spoke in support of the project, notably for its planned 12 to 15 units — or, 10,000 square feet — of affordable housing expected to be set aside for a low-income or disability housing operator, if the project wins approval Monday.

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