Hidden creek may turn Port Moody townhouse project into six-storey development

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An unlisted Port Moody watercourse may cause a developer to pivot from a planned family friendly townhouse complex to a six-storey building.

The applicants from Azure Properties Group said if they are not granted flexibility on the city watercourse regulations around setbacks, they may have to switch designs to accommodate for the loss of space.

“It would be really devastating to everyone involved with the stakeholders, if there was another delay and we have to go right back to the drawing board,” said Navi Sivia, owner of Azure. “If there’s no opportunity for flexibility .. then it’s just a sad story.”

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The 0.78-acre development would consolidate four lots at 3370 Viewmount Drive and 3360- 3364 Henry Street to build a 38 three-bedroom units in five stacked townhouse buildings.

It would require rezoning, and an Official Community Plan (OCP) amendment for a small portion of the site.

The applicants presented their pre-application designs to council on Dec. 6. Staff however, listed  a series of constraints holding the development back.

The unlisted watercourse on the site runs directly through the site. Zoning requires at least a 15-metre setback from watercourses. 

The stream must be classified by an environmental professional.

The applicant has proposed culverting the creek. However, staff were opposed as the current OCP strives to maintain natural watercourses as open streams. 

Other issues staff raised were a Metro Vancouver sanitary sewer line running through one of the properties, which would require relocation.  

The applicants said they submitted their application in early spring and did not get a report back until Dec. 2.

Gagan Sivia, director of finance at Azure, said that unless a culvert can be supported, not much else can be done on the site.

Gagan said developers are allowed to build up to six-storeys in the current zoning, and that was their original plan, but the city tends to develop below maximum land uses.

Furthermore, she said city staff encouraged them to proceed with the townhouse designs.

“It was very surprising to learn about (the watercourse),” Gagan said. “Finding out on Friday that there’s a potential 15 metre setback is kind of a big blow to the entire project.”

She said if they may have to switch back to a six-storey development if they are not granted a variance on the setback.

Navi described the watercourse as a “ditch,” adding the surrounding developments do not meet the required setback, and the creek is already culverted on either side of their development site.

Coun. Diana Dilworth was enthusiastic about the project moving forward despite the constraints due to how well it fits into the neighbourhood.

The site is currently surrounded by townhouses and single-family houses, and is located a 600-metre walk from Inlet Centre Skytrain Station.

“It’s the right project. It is the right place. We know that residents want townhouses in a family friendly neighborhood, you could not get any more family friendly than this neighborhood,” Dilworth said.

She said their next steps should be to hire the environmental professional to report back on the state of the creek bed, adding that some creek beds only contain water when it rains.

Dilworth pointed out that with the current design, a five-metre setback would cause the development to lose eight to 10 units, while the 15-metre setback would cause them to lose 24 units.

Coun. Haven Lurbiecki said she has concerns around stacked townhouse developments due to the lack of amenity space – the development has 2,000 square feet shared between the 38-units.

However, she said the more six-storey developments built, the higher the land value will rise, making it harder to build townhomes.

“Those are the types of questions we need to be asking ourselves in the bigger picture,” Lurbiecki said.

Coun. Amy Lubik said it was hard to make any kind of decision regarding the watercourse until she could see a report from an environmental professional.

She said she would not be opposed to a higher-storey building if a report determined there were a lot of challenges.

Mayor Meghan Lahti agreed, stating that there’s already a six-storey rental across the street.

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