Coquitlam council approves 16-tower Fraser Mills development

Despite some misgivings about affordability and the loss of industrial land, Coquitlam council unanimously approved a proposal that will transform the Fraser Mills land over the next 20 to 25 years.

With 16 towers ranging from 29 to 49 storeys as well as low- and mid-rise apartment buildings, the 37-hectare project is expected to add 5,500 units and approximately 11,000 people to Coquitlam.

Located east of Ikea and south of Maillardville, the development is also slated to include 794,500 square feet of employment space including light industrial, office and retail space. Spearheaded by Beedie development group, the project is expected to produce 1,700 jobs, according to a city staff report.

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From the public

“Let’s get it going,” Bruce Gibson exhorted during Monday’s public hearing.

Most speakers supported the project, with Graham Fraser, the CEO of neighbouring business AG Hair touting the inclusion of rental units and increased transit.

“This development will provide much needed support for us as an employer, as it brings many benefits to the area that will help us attract and retain employees,” Fraser said.

The one criticism centred on the project’s lack of affordability.

Amid the 5,500 units, the project includes 470 rentals evenly split between market and non-market units.

“To me, this feels like tokenism,” Rob Bottos told council. “It feels like we are creating one more community where those with low to moderate incomes will not be welcome.”

From council

While he described the development as “fabulous,” Coun. Chris Wilson asked the developer to examine a way to include more below market rentals, possibly in other projects in the city.

“What our city needs is more rental to provide larger supply, and especially some more below-market rental,” Wilson said.

New school

A portion of the site is set to be held to make room for a school if deemed necessary by School District #43.

During Monday’s meeting, School District #43 confirmed that their projections show a new school will be needed at Fraser Mills.

Given the lag time between when a school is needed and when a school is built, Coun. Teri Towner implored the province to be proactive with funding.

“Start budgeting, starting planning . . . to get the school built so all those kids aren’t having to be driven over the King Edward overpass to school every day,” Towner said.

Both local MLAs and the Ministry of Education are “quite aware” of the forthcoming activity at the Fraser Mills site, school trustee Carol Cahoon told council Monday.

“This is a top priority,” Cahoon said.

photo Jeremy Shepherd

Industrial concerns

Port of Vancouver previously expressed concerns about the project, noting the “alarming rate” at which industrial land is put to other uses.

“We urge the City of Coquitlam to consider the economic importance of this industrial land to the community’s future, and the shortage of industrial land across the region in general,” wrote Port of Vancouver director of planning and development Greg Yeomans in 2018.

Yeomans emphasized the area’s history of industrial development, “close to the Fraser River and transportation linkages.”

“Clearly, the scarcity of industrial land is a critical issue for Canada’s trade capability, undermining employment and economic development opportunities for the region and the country as a whole. While demand for housing is high, converting industrial land will only result in losing the very lands that create jobs to support residential growth and local prosperity,” Yeomans wrote.

Discussing the controversy about the change from industrial to residential land on Monday, Towner underscored the need for housing, which has only increased since the project was first contemplated.

“We’re in a housing crisis,” Towner said, noting the project also includes 69 childcare spaces in the first phase of development.

Other councillors praised the creation of a walkable waterfront area similar to the quay in New Westminster.

Getting around

In exchange for a reduction in city parking requirements, Beedie would also subsidize transit to ensure 15-minute bus service during peak hours Monday through Saturday. The subsidy would continue until TransLink upgrades bus service in the area.

The bus service is also set to include a route between Fraser Mills and Braid Station.

That lack of transit was cause for concern from TransLink in 2018, with senior planner Mark Seinen noting that the 159 bus is the only route that directly serves the site.

Even with improvements, “the resulting 159 service would likely not be adequate to meet the demand created by the addition of as many as 10,000 new residents to the area,” Seinen write,

The development would create a “compact new community,” according to Seinen.

“However, it also poses challenges for the regional transportation system, particularly in terms of goods movement and capacity on the Major Road Network,” he wrote.

If council moves the project forward, the development will still need approval from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

Flooding concerns

To address flooding concerns, the “habitable portion of residences and commercial spaces” must be at a minimum elevation of 20 feet.

Cash on the table

If approved, the applicant will be on the hook for approximately $192 million. That figure includes $125 million in development cost charges, $6.14 million toward the city’s affordable housing reserve fund and $61 million toward a new community centre.

Next step

The development requires one more formal council vote before construction can begin.

“I look forward to some ribbon cuttings,” Mayor Richard Stewart said Monday.

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