Port Moody councillors promote higher towers as solution to ‘wall’ issue along St. Johns

Pomo-wall-density
Architectural rending of the building’s design on St. Johns Street. photo supplied

An application for another six-storey apartment building on St. Johns Street sparked disagreement about density during Monday’s Port Moody council meeting.

Some councillors suggest allowing developers to build above six-storeys would enable more open space between buildings, instead of a “walled effect” along Port Moody’s busiest throughway.

The current zoning only allows for six-storeys under the Official Community Plan, which council is in the midst of reviewing.

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“I don’t particularly like the building form, when we are starting to put all these buildings together, we’re getting a six-storey wall and it is very obvious,” said Coun. Samantha Agtarap. “I would support a taller building.”

The nearly 50,000 square-foot project would require rezoning four parcels on the corner of St. Johns Street and James Road to construct a U-shaped building with 192 market rental units.

It’s still in the pre-application stage, and developers were seeking feedback from council before making an official submission. 

The site is adjacent to Moody Middle School and the site of the recently approved elementary school.

Included in the preliminary design is nearly 5,000 square feet of commercial space, and a 6,000 square-foot courtyard. 

Staff had several issues with the overall form and character of the building, including the north elevation (facing St. Johns), which was described as having a “lengthy, and generally, flat appearance.”

The advisory design panel provided recommendations on the application, but it has yet to be reviewed by the land use committee (LUC) due to recently cancelled meetings.

Staff said the LUC will be able to provide comment at the next available meeting.

Coun. Haven Lurbiecki agreed with Agtarap’s comments regarding the massing of the building on to St. John Street but said the solutions should not be to deviate from the current OCP.

She inquired as to why the upper levels were not stepped back, as recommended for a building of this size under the OCP.

The applicant stated that stepped-back designs are not as energy efficient, and they are trying adhere to the highest standards in the BC Building Code (Step Code 4).

While Lurbiecki said she appreciated efficiency goals, they need to keep in mind the “character of the community.”

“We can fit in six stories nicely across our country where it makes sense,” she said. “We can have these buildings so that they are not right up to the sidewalk, straight up.” 

Some of these concerns were echoed by Coun. Amy Lubik, adding the outside of the building is not very friendly.

Lubik said she’s growing increasingly worried over the urban heat island effect in the area with the amount of “flat and greenless” concrete buildings being introduced.

“It’s kind of a wall,” Lubik said. “That is kind of where this development falls down for me.”

Mayor Meghan Lahti said council should expect similar applications in the future if they expect new developments to align with Step Code 4, as it restricts architectural designs.

“They’re all going to get kind of plain looking,” Lahti said. “I’m not saying you can’t have a six-storey building stepped back, but there are limitations.

“We can’t have it all … Our OCP probably has to keep that in mind going forward.”

Coun. Kyla Knowles also suggested that council should consider allowing higher-storey towers, stating she knows not everyone likes the idea.

“It kind of solves a lot of problems. It’s a more attractive look, it provides more density, depending on the floor-area ratio.”

Agtarap and Lahti both agreed.

Agtarap said the developer would probably have an easier time achieving Step Code 4 if the building was simpler and higher, noting it would have less of a visual impact on St. Johns Street.

Lahti added that more land would be available for amenity space.

Lurbiecki expressed concern over council promoting OCP amendments while the guiding document is still being reviewed.

“This one-off approach is not going to take us in the right direction, and I don’t think it’s what our community wants,” she said.

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