Proposed development by Onni Group at 13th Street and Lonsdale Avenue get opposition from North Vancouver Residents

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

700 oppose size of plans for Safeway site

Brent Richter

A group of City of North Vancouver residents, about 700 of them so far, are hoping to stay council’s hand on approving what could be the largest development in Upper Lonsdale history.

City resident Linda Heese and a few other volunteers have been collecting signatures for a petition calling on council to reject a proposal from developer Onni Group for the Safeway site at 13th Street and Lonsdale Avenue. The project would see 344 residential units in two towers measuring 180 and 240 feet in height, atop a commercial podium including a new grocery store. The project goes to a public hearing and likely vote by council on Nov. 19.

But in Heese’s view, the towers are too tall and dense for the neighbourhood and abut the sidewalks, which will “change, irrevocably” the character of what is now a nice pedestrian street.

“It’s too extreme and it doesn’t leave any greenspace left and the towers are too close to the sidewalk. There’s no setback. There’s no landscaping. There are no architecturally nice things about this design,” Heese said.

Unlike the other condo towers in the neighbourhood, council hasn’t made “big fuss and feathers” to make sure the Safeway site has large setbacks and landscaping to improve their look for the passing public.

The plan also calls for 14th Street to become the main entry point of the development for residents and delivery vehicles, which will bring traffic chaos to a street designated as a greenway in the official community plan, said Heese.

“How can we put another 20 stores in this thing, and have (the ones here now) and not feel that there’s going to be a traffic problem? And why are we going to be bringing grocery trucks and moving vans into a street designated as a greenway,” she asked.

There are also problems with what council seems to be willing to trade the extra density for, Heese said.

In exchange for the increase in density, Onni is offering 10,000 square feet of non-profit housing, 5,000 square feet of childcare space, a $1-million contribution to the city’s amenity fund, a connection to the Lonsdale Energy Corporation, infrastructure upgrades to the surrounding streets and traffic signals, $250,000 in public art, green building standards and extra commercial space.

But those perks pale in comparison to how much more Onni stands to make with such a dense project, Heese said.

Judging by the reaction she’s seen from people signing the petition, there is little public awareness about the size and scope of the project, something for which Heese blames the city and developer. Both failed at being forthcoming about the project with public notices and signage, Heese argued, and Onni’s proposal is buried in “menus and menus and menus” on the city’s website.

“How many people have gone onto this and have gone through all of that stuff to see what the hell is going on here?” she said. “This has been flying so low on the radar, it’s unbelievable.”

The artist’s rendering of what the site may look like when fully developed also doesn’t accurately depict how tall and how wide the buildings will be, Heese suspects.

Onni has offered to meet with Heese to discuss the proposal, but Heese said she is only meeting with them to discuss a much smaller development on the site.

“I know what they’ve done and I see all their detailed plans. I don’t need them to do a sales pitch to me,” she said.

Ultimately, the site ought to be redeveloped, Heese said, but she would like to see a project that is more in keeping with the official community plan, which puts a maximum building height at 180 feet.

In the meantime, Heese says she will continue gathering signatures and letting people know about the project right up until the Nov. 19 public hearing.

“I’m hoping that if (council) hears from enough people in our city, that they will realize how unpopular this project is and how drastically it changes the character of the area, and that people really, really care,” she said.

No one from Onni was available to comment on the proposal or petition.

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