Despite a long line of opposition, a highrise is likely going to be built on a city-owned lot in downtown Coquitlam, following a unanimous vote from council Monday evening.
Located at the corner of Glen Drive and Westwood, the 52,000-square foot site was once occupied by the since-relocated École Glen Elementary School.
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Monday’s vote switched the site’s zoning from civic institutional to comprehensive development, clearing the way for the eventual development of a high-density residential tower.
While development plans are preliminary, the city is aiming to sell the land to a developer who would build an approximately 296-unit highrise.
In a meeting that stretched past midnight, residents raised concerns that ranged from lost serenity and eroded greenspace to increased in traffic.
The construction noise and dust could impact the nearby school and affect the mental health of students, cautioned neighbour Paul Brown, who raised concerns about the danger of construction sites.
“With any construction project there are concerns about safety,” he told council. “Around the site itself, and on the roads leading up to it, children can be unpredictable and construction sites unforgiving.”
“Please do not turn Coquitlam into another concrete jungle,” wrote 20-year resident Y.S. Lau in a letter to council.
Writing on behalf of the Glen Elementary PAC, Eveline Yu predicted “significant negative impacts” from a high-density tower.
“The school is already operating beyond its intended capacity, and this proposed rezoning would only exacerbate the situation,” Yu wrote.
Walk away from gridlock
In the short term, the development will cause more congestion, acknowledged Coun. Brent Asmundson. However, it’s critical council thinks about the future, Asmundson said, explaining the importance of putting people close to transit in a walkable neighbourhood.
“To stop building housing means that we’re only going to exacerbate the problem of people not being able to have a place to live, exacerbate the price of housing even further,” Asmundson said.
The development would be about 450 metres from Lincoln SkyTrain station, making it ideal for a dense development, according to Coun. Teri Towner.
“Someone said today, ‘Another highrise?’ Well, we’re not going to put a single-family house 400 metres away from rapid transit in our city centre,” Towner said.
Mayor Richard Stewart made a similar point in his remarks, addressing a criticism that Coquitlam doesn’t need another highrise.
“So you have a home then and housing is not an issue in your family?” he asked rhetorically. “I congratulate you . . . but there are lots that need housing.”
Speaking as a City Centre resident, Coun. Matt Djonlic called construction fatigue, “a very valid concern.”
However, Djonlic said neighbours will be more willing to tolerate highrise construction if it’s in the service of a public good.
“We could be asking for more here, in terms of what goes into this development permit,” Djonlic said, adding there’s no guarantee that non-market housing will be included in the project.
Coun. Steve Kim said he hoped the density could help ease the gridlock. Kim said he would consider parking minimums and storage space for bicycles in the building to help get people out of their cars.
“There is going to be a lot of change coming to the City Centre and if they’re all going to be in a vehicle, it’s not going to work,” said Coun. Robert Mazzarolo.
The site is close to a park, a school, a library, a pool, and a shopping centre, noted Coun. Craig Hodge.
“If not here, where would you put housing?” he asked.
Both Hodge and Coun. Trish Mandewo discussed the challenges of representing people who don’t yet live in the city.
“We have to make a decision knowing that yes, it might not be popular today,” Mandewo said. “I think our kids will thank us tomorrow.”
How the city got the land
In 2017, Coquitlam and School District #43 made an agreement in which the city would provide a new artificial turf field at Centennial Secondary, improvements to Glen Park and financial contributions to several other city schools. In exchange, the district transferred the surplus parcel at 1185 Westwood to the city, according to a Coquitlam staff report.
The school district decided they didn’t need the site, Coun. Dennis Marsden said Monday.
“They made the determination that they were better served to put their new offices over on Winslow; as opposed to putting them by a transit centre,” Marsden said, adding the provincial government encouraged the sale.
Getting a school built can be a challenge, noted Coun. Mazzarolo.
“Our provincial government does not build schools until they can literally count the students,” he said, adding it “took forever” to get a school built on Burke Mountain.
Mazzarolo urged the crowd to write to their local politicians to advocate for a new school.
Childcare and money
A covenant is set to be registered requiring a childcare space with room for at least 69 children in the development.
While estimates are preliminary, the project is expected to generate about $18 million in density bonus payments, development cost charges, and community amenity contributions.