North Van Onni development halted
What was by last week’s popular opinion a slam-dunk Central Lonsdale development will now go back to the drawing board for a new public hearing next year.
In a 4-3 vote Monday, North Vancouver city council rejected the Onni Group’s plan to build more than 45 storeys of residential, office and retail space in the heart of the city, amid allegations from some council members that the developer “rigged” the project’s public hearing the week before.
If approved, construction would have begun on 350 new condo units built in two towers of 17 and 24 storeys each, alongside a new six-storey commercial office building on the current Safeway site at Lonsdale Avenue and 13th Street.
Instead, Onni was directed by a majority of council to come back to city hall in the New Year with downsized plans and a less “bullying” attitude toward the public hearing process.
“The aggression on the part of the developer has put me off significantly,” Coun. Rod Clark said, accusing Onni of “hijacking” the Nov. 19 public hearing by signing up several of its own staff and supporters to speak in favour of the project before many city residents could have their say.
It’s important to note, however, that such practices are not against city policy on public hearings. And it’s something Onni’s VP of development, Beau Jarvis, told The Outlook opponents were doing as well.
The allegations were enough to prompt Coun. Clark to table a motion to amend the city’s public hearing policy to restrict sign-ups to in-person only. That motion was referred to staff for further study.
“They signed up three pages of people — all the handwriting was the same,” Clark said. “And that precluded a lot of people who had honestly come here to give us their opinion from speaking because it got too damn late and they went home.”
After more than six hours and 90 speakers, that hearing wrapped up in the wee hours of Tuesday morning with proponents of the project outnumbering opponents more than three to one.
But at Monday’s council meeting, many in attendance wore red in opposition to the Lonsdale development. And their message won out, with councillors Don Bell, Pam Bookham and Guy Heywood joining Coun. Clark in sending the project back for reconsideration.
The four councillors cited problems not only with Onni but with the project itself, including a pedestrian walkway that doubled as a semi-trailer access, increased traffic on 13th Street and what many said would be an over-densification of the city centre. Coun. Clark also blasted the project’s community amenities — a 37-space daycare and a dozen units of affordable housing, among others — referring to them disparagingly as “trinkets.”
Over on the pro-Onni side of the debate, Mayor Darrell Mussatto and councillors Linda Buchanan and Craig Keating tried in vain to convince their colleagues to approve the building bylaws and then compromise on the specific building details at a later date.
Coun. Buchanan accused those on council calling for a second public hearing of making up problems with the project just to forestall making an admittedly tough decision Monday.
“I consider what I’ve been hearing as really red herrings in terms of making some difficult decisions,” Buchanan said, referring to the Safeway lot as it stands today as under-performing asphalt.
“I don’t think delaying decisions is necessarily good leadership and at the end of the day, this has gone through a tremendous amount of public process,” she added.
But at the end of this day, the final vote stood in favour of holding another public hearing on a rejigged Onni project at the end of January 2013.
This prompted Mayor Mussatto to issue a warning to council and the city at large.
“It’s not going to come back bigger,” he said. “It would come back smaller. And if it does come back smaller, we would lose a lot of the amenities the city is banking on.”