St. Johns Street commercial development has ‘a long way to go,’ says Mayor Lahti

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Before it gets to St. Johns Street, a large commercial development is likely heading back to the drawing board.

Currently in the pre-application phase, a six-storey, 17,400 square-foot project across the street from Kiaro Cannabis was in front of Port Moody council Tuesday for early feedback.

Council and staff were critical of the project’s size, density, and the possibility that its construction would mean the loss of one of Port Moody’s oldest red oak trees.

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“There’s a long way to go before it actually becomes a development application,” Mayor Meghan Lahti said.

The project would build a six-storey retail and office building on two small residential lots on the 2800 block of St. John Street.

The concept envisions the top two floors occupied by two restaurants utilizing a rooftop patio with three levels for commercial use and a total floor area of nearly 70,000 square feet. 

The city has calculated the building design has enough space for 124 office jobs and 83 retail jobs.

Three levels of underground parking would provide 119 parking spaces and 14 bicycle racks.

The project has been at the pre-application stage twice before, previously having a residential component in 2017 and 2019,

At the time staff had concerns regarding the property being too small, too dense, resulting in a bulky and overpowering building in comparison to its neighbours.

Previous designs were also criticized for lacking amenity space, minimum parking and loading requirements, and an accessible parkade.

The applicant purchased an adjacent property before their third run at the municipal gatekeepers.

But many of the previous concerns still exist. Even with an additional property, staff note the proposed site does not meet the required size and density limits for the zoning by a significant margin.

The design also does not meet road width and access requirements for a zoning variance, according to city staff. Staff also listed concerns over the potential impact to pedestrian and bike-friendly traffic on St. Andrew’s Street.

Staff recommend that the proposal be stepped down, using more terraces so the design is less front-heavy on St. Johns Street. 

They also suggest it should incorporate the corner two-storey corner lot to the west, so it does not limit future development potential.

Another concern was the absence of any tree retention as St, John’s Street already suffers from urban heat effects associated with a lack of canopy.

In order to build the development, one of the oldest red oak trees in Port Moody would need to be cut down, according to the staff report.

The architect said the tree’s wood would be incorporated into the building.

Councillor comments

Coun. Diana Dilworth was positive about the overall design, and said she was not worried about height of the building, nor the potential to orphan the adjacent two-storey building as it is relatively new.

She was concerned, however, about the building being over the density limits, stating it could set a precedent for other developers.

Dilworth said she was skeptical about the viability of businesses in the location. She suggested either a further a feasibility study or seeking long-term “anchor tenants.” 

“It’s up to the market to decide,” she said. “But I think with the amount of commercial and office and restaurant space there, you might have bitten off a little bit more than than you can chew,” 

Coun. Haven Lurbiecki said she liked the proposal’s inclusion of purpose-built space, highlighting the city’s job targets in its economic development master plan.

“What we really need, importantly, is well paying jobs so that people can afford to live here and work here,” she said.

Lurbiecki added she thinks the project needs to be scaled down to meet the rezoning requirements.

Coun. Amy Lubik and Lahti both expressed worry over the lack of green space, removal of the red oak tree, and heavy use of glass and concrete in the design.

They both suggested letting the tree survive and incorporating it into the design of the building.

“Those trees live for 200, 400 years, so they’ve been here longer than most of us. I think that it’s really important that we maintain them alive,” Lubik said.

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