A gateway project on the west side of Port Moody that’s been gestating for 17 years nearly hit a brick wall this month before getting an 11th hour reprieve on Tuesday.
In 2019, applicant Phil Boname touted the development as weaving 14 different land uses into a “complete community on five acres.”
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“We’ve been waiting 14 years to have a public hearing,” said Boname, the president of Urbanics Consultants.
Replete with office space, a medical clinic, light industrial land, an arts centre and a hotel, the project is situated on a plot of land shaped roughly like Robin Hood’s hat. The site stretches north from the 2100-block of Clarke Street past Vintner and tapers to a point near Short Street.
The development, which includes 418 units of strata, rental and seniors housing spread between 10 buildings that range from two- to 31-storeys, earned unanimous support from council in 2019.
But while council advanced the project, the development failed to move forward.
With a three-year deadline looming, Boname returned to council earlier this month to request a one-year extension.
“It hasn’t been for lack of trying,” Boname told council.
Besides the pandemic, the “complexity and technical details of the project” also proved a problem for the applicant’s consultants and potential development partners, according to a city staff report.
While the project might not be quite as feasible as it was six months ago, Boname assured council the project was still feasible, adding that a rejection from council would be “devastating.”
Following “significant progress” in the past year, the project will likely be ready to come back to council for final approval in early 2023, according to city staff.
But while city staff seemed confident, a few councillors expressed reservations.
Getting snookered and throwing sticks
Council’s approval was contingent on the notion the applicant was “raring to go,” Coun. Hunter Madsen said. Instead, the project “feels like it’s in slow-motion,” Madsen said.
Madsen also expressed a concern the city was “getting snookered.”
“The proponent might simply be trying to buy more time while they seek, for example, to sell re-sell this project to another developer,” Madsen said.
Council needs to find a way to collaborate with developers, emphasized Coun. Diana Dilworth.
“To throw a stick at this application at this point and say, ‘No, we’re not giving you an extension,’ would be absolutely devastating and it would give a huge black eye to this city council,” she said.
The stagnation is a letdown, according to Coun. Steve Milani.
“It’s three years and we haven’t even got a shovel in the ground,” he said.
The developer has dealt with impacts council likely can’t begin to imagine, Coun. Zoe Royer said.
“I think that we need to be sympathetic,” she told her colleagues.
It would be a mistake to add more density to the area, according to Mayor Rob Vagramov.
“It looks almost like it’s an on-purpose traffic jam,” he said.
Vagramov explained that his objection was largely related to community planning.
“It’s barely even about the extension,” he said.
Coun. Meghan Lahti differed.
“The only way you’re ever going to get transit at that location is if you have density,” she said.
It’s respectful to support the extension, Lahti said, adding that the debate shouldn’t be seen as an opportunity to reverse a previous decision.
The request for an extension was scuttled in a 3-3 vote. Vagramov, Madsen and Milani each opposed the extension. Coun. Amy Lubik was not present.
The next week
While it didn’t quite make it to the agenda, the Westport project was back in council chambers on July 19 with Coun. Zoe Royer calling for reconsideration.
Council held a vote on adding the agenda item. Council voted 5-2 in favour of adding the agenda item with Mayor Vagramov and Coun. Milani opposed.
Adding an item to an agenda requires unanimous approval, Vagramov said. later moving to request a legal opinion on the matter.
“If there was something done or a decision that was made that was not conducive to the law, we have to undo that decision,” Vagramov said.
Undoing the decision
After getting that legal opinion, Vagramov determined the “correct course of action” was to reconsider the extension vote.
Both Royer and Dilworth apologized to the applicant, with Royer calling the situation “quite humiliating for me personally.”
“There is a very level of disrespect that was paid to one of Port Moody’s proudest and longest serving businesses,” Dilworth said.
While she kept her remarks brief, Coun. Amy Lubik lauded the project’s rental component, seniors housing, medical centre and boutique hotel.
Couns. Madsen and Milani ultimately reversed their previous votes. However, Vagramov maintained that allowing the extension was a mistake.
“There’s a reason for time limits in the first place,” he said.
Council voted 6-1 to give the applicant a one-year extension.