Port Moody’s massive Coronation Park development passed a first rezoning hurdle Tuesday despite concerns over the complete lack of affordable units.
City council voted 6-1 to advance the rezoning, opting to trust a promise from the developer that below-market units can be added at a later phase of development.
Mayor Meghan Lahti said she wants to see affordable housing on the site, but projects of this scale and scope require a level of trust between the city and the developer.
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“It’s time to move this project forward,” said Mayor Meghan Lahti, adding council still has a few options. “We can, at any time, trigger an Official Community Plan (OCP) amendment of our own making if things don’t look the way we want them to look down the road.”
Wesgroup Properties’ six-tower project is the largest in-stream development in the city’s history, yet affordability concerns and complications have been a frequently expressed concern.
The issue was the focus of discussion at both the land-use committee and council’s early input deliberations in February, 2023.
Most of the 2,587 units proposed are strata units, while 101 will be rental units, offered alongside a rent-to-own program.
While the project does not meet the 15 percent below-market threshold, Wesgroup has pointed to a flexibility clause in the OCP that allows these requirements to be offset by other significant contributions.
These contributions include $8.1 million in community amenity contributions; $4.8 million for public art; $25.8 million in developer cost charges; $43.2 million for infrastructure upgrades; $17.9 million for the other amenities, including the construction of a new park, pedestrian overpass, civic space and greenway improvements.
Wesgroup submitted a letter of intent in April, committing to explore affordable housing options after rezoning in exchange for more density to meet the city’s requirements.
These would be added in at later stages of the 10-year build out.
Wesgroup Vice President Brad Jones was adamant the company can not handle any more scheduling delays to the project, adding they are approaching four years of reworks.
Jones said the application conforms to the OCP, and is consistent with feedback from council, public engagement and numerous consultants.
He said the first residents won’t be moving in until at least 2028. Wesgroup is aiming to have the rezoning process complete by September, so development permits for the first phase of the project can be submitted.
“We are getting to the end of our rope in this approval process,” Jones said. “We can’t handle new motions for changes tonight. We can’t handle new requests. We can’t handle more delays.”
That project has been subject to numerous requests for changes from council since Wesgroup first applied for an OCP amendment in 2020, granting a 50 percent density increase.
The former council first requested affordable housing to be included in the development, but then removed that request in favour of lowering tower height and density.
Wesgroup have now submitted their third financial analysis to the city, which is currently under review.
Jones said all these analyses come to the same conclusion: “the project is being asked to do too much.”
Wesgroup is offering more than three and a half times what is required under the flexibility clause in the city’s density bonusing policy, according to Jones.
He said adding affordable housing would make the project unfeasible, and BC Housing and the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation still see too much risk unless there is clarity on its approval.
“We’re providing far and above beyond the requirements,” Jones said. “At the last meeting of council, it was raised that some members had concerns about the adequacy of the project in the current form. We believe that based on all of this information, that’s fundamentally untrue.”
The only councillor staunchly against moving the project forward was Coun. Haven Lurbiecki, who said the proposal was out of line with the city’s housing needs.
She said a Suter Brook development used as comparable for the project has baseline unit prices of $700,000.
The city’s housing needs assessment only calls for 85 one-bedroom units for high-income earners by 2031, according to Lurbiecki, and this development is providing over 1,500, while 1,800 units are needed for low and very low income earners.
“You can see how this math does not really add up,” Lurbiecki said. “We are not in a crisis over a lack of luxury condo towers.”
Lurbiecki said she advocated for the inclusion of affordable housing during the prior OCP amendment, and the former council told the community that it should be negotiated during rezoning.
Arguing that more density be considered in the future to achieve affordable housing was “outrageous,” Lurbeicki added.
She described the flexibility clause as a “loophole” that Wesgroup was using to skirt the city’s affordability requirements.
Lurbiecki concluded by stating an excess supply of market units will not lower rent prices, pointing to recent reports of escalating rent prices in neighbouring municipalities.
“Have you driven to Coquitlam Centre or Lougheed Mall lately?” Lurbeicki said. “Tower after tower, including rentals, and nothing has been done in terms of affordability.”
Other councillors pushed back on the criticism of the project, blaming the lack of affordable units on the previous council’s decisions.
Coun. Kyla Knowles said asking for the developer to include affordable housing at this stage was “unconscionable.”
Coronation Park residents have been waiting for the project to advance for a decade, Knowles added.
“Enough time has been spent on outreach, open houses and meetings, it’s time to move forward,” Knowles said. “Every single time we change the goalposts or send developers on bad-faith goose chases, we are wasting the time, money and patience of our residents. In fact, we are making future housing less affordable.”
Knowles detailed the development timeline of the project, listing the numerous revisions and reversals since Wesgroup took charge of the project.
She said the company has a good track record, and that she was “dismayed by the constant attack on for-profit businesses.”
“It is for-profit businesses – small, medium and large – that are the drivers of our economy,” Knowles said. “Inflation, interest rates and supply chain constraints are making housing projects less financially viable by the day.”
Knowles also cited a 2021 letter sent to the City of Port Moody by the province warning them against reducing density near transit oriented developments, along with recent threats to strip municipalities of their zoning powers.
Coun. Diana Dilworth agreed with Knowles, stating the sluggish approval process has been “beyond frustrating” and unlike anything she’s ever seen on council.
“We’ve asked for everything and the kitchen sink in this application,” Dilworth said. “There’s been a hoop to jump through, the hoop’s been changed further down the line … then the hoop was set on fire. And now we’re looking at the tiger coming back at us.”
She said she fought against the previous council’s decision to remove affordable housing in favour of reduced density.
Nonetheless, Dilworth said she trusts Wesgroup’s letter of intent, and said the number of amenities being offered would significantly benefit the public.
Coun. Amy Lubik said the project has: “a lot of the right ingredients,” but inclusion of a below-market units is important from an equity perspective for a transit oriented development.
She agreed the former council’s tradeoff for less density was a mistake, and they should have insisted on at least 10 percent from the outset.
Wesgroup, for its part, has proposed that the city could try to reallocate some of the offered amenities to reduce rates in the rental units.
Lubik proposed a motion that staff examine some of these tradeoff options, which was supported by Lurbiecki, who suggested reducing the number of parkings stalls.
“We’re building 3,000 parking stalls. It’s literally nonsensical,” Lurbiecki said. “The impact to traffic is going to be catastrophic.”
The rest of council voted against the motion.
While some were in favour of reduced parking, they were wary of delaying the project or reducing amenities already negotiated.
Coun. Callan Morrison said the city needs to weigh affordability against the community’s need for an overpass and park space.
“I don’t know if trading off what we’re already being given … is necessarily the right route,” Morrison said.
Prior to second reading of the rezoning application a number of outstanding items need to be satisfied, including the review of the financial analysis.
If the application is successful public hearing will follow, which will be the final opportunity for public comment before the rezoning vote.