Onni to drop Safeway proposal in response to council comments: president

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

Brent Richter

It appears developer Onni Group is giving up on its proposal to build condos, offices and retail space at the Safeway site on Lonsdale at 13th.

In a Dec. 3 letter to City of North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto and copied to the rest of council, Onni’s president states that the company will be withdrawing its application because of comments made throughout the public process by Couns. Pam Bookham and Rod Clark.

“We intend to announce publicly within the next 48 – 72 hours that we are withdrawing our application…,” Rossano De Cotiis states. “Unfortunately, we are no longer able to tolerate public abuse from these colleagues of yours and are unwilling to continue to go to endless rounds of public hearings until Councillors Bookham and Clark get their way.”

Specifically, it was the accusations that Onni had manipulated the town hall meeting and public hearing and otherwise manufactured public support for the project.

“The outrageous public comments made by Councillor Clark and Councillor Bookham over the past number of months are not only unprofessional and undemocratic but, in our view, possibly defamatory,” De Cotiis states.

An Onni employee had come to sign up a host of supporters to the Nov. 19 public hearing speakers list, though council has noted that is not a violation of any rules.

If followed through on, this will kill the controversial project which would have seen 344 condo units in two towers measuring 180 and 240 feet in height, atop a commercial podium including a new grocery store, as well as 40,000 square feet of office space.

This is the second proposal Onni has put forward for its property at 1308 Lonsdale Ave. The last one, submitted in 2010, included three 18-storey towers and was rejected by council. But the most recent attempt did win support from nearby residents, De Cotiis noted in the letter.

“According to your own staff, we have exceeded expectations in terms of public outreach and consultation and have significantly changed the project based on feedback from residents,” he said. “Neighbours who were initially opposed to the project have become public and vocal supporters based on our commitment to amending our proposal to address and incorporate their concerns.”

De Cotiis also reminded council of the amenities the city will be forfeiting with loss of the application.

“This is not a decision we made lightly and deeply regret the loss of much needed commercial space, childcare and other amenities negotiated in good faith,” he said.

The developer had offered to include 5,000 square feet of childcare space, 10,000 square feet of non-profit affordable housing, heightened environmental building standards, a connection to the Lonsdale Energy Corporation and a $1-milion contribution to the city’s amenity fund.

The increased height and density above what is allowed in the official community plan, as well as the traffic flow around the massive development were huge points of contention for critics of the proposal throughout the process.

De Cotiis goes on in the letter to lecture Bookham about comments she made about Onni’s supporters, most of whom described themselves as young professionals at the public hearing.

“Further, it is not surprising that we see diminishing voter turnouts and growing apathy among young people towards our democratic processes given some of the disturbing comments made by Councillor Bookham,” he wrote. “Discriminatory attacks based on age have no place in any public hearing by anyone, let alone by an elected official who is supposed to represent their interests.”

Council had Onni’s proposal on the agenda for a vote at Monday night’s council meeting but after a short discussion and little explanation, council voted to delete the Onni items early in the meeting. Mussatto said the removal of the items would mean the second public hearing would go ahead for late January.

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