The City of North Vancouver unanimously approved this week a 23-storey tower with 175 new units in the 1400 block of St. Georges Avenue following one-sided commentary from the public.
Out of 30 speakers, 28 offered effusive praise for the proposal and in particular its 18 units to be offered at below market rents. The other two speakers addressed related issues.
The proposal includes a 23-storey, 166-unit skyscraper including a commercial podium at 1441 St. Georges Ave. The 68-metre tower would be built just west of the Royal George, an 80-unit, 16-storey rental building that would be reconfigured to add nine units.
While he eventually cast his vote in favour of the project, Coun. Rod Clark was less effusive.
“I’m not going to not vote for this,” he said, adding that the proposal underlines how many North Shore residents are in need across the housing spectrum, including seniors who feel they’re being forced off the North Shore.
“I happen to know three different single-parent men with children, and so, what about them? There’s no accommodation in this for them, either.”
Over the objections of Mayor Darrell Mussatto, Clark accused city staff of failing to drive a hard bargain with Chard Development.
Clark called for 26, or 10 per cent, of the project’s 255 units to be offered at below market levels in accordance with city policy. However, that policy only applied to the 175 new units, according to city planner Michael Epp, who noted that the developer could transform the 80-unit Royal George into condos without council permission.
Clark found an ally in Coun. Craig Keating, who also said he supported the project with “grave reservations.”
Keating, who voted against the proposal at first reading, pointed to 500-square-foot units in the nearby Onni project renting for about $2,000 a month.
“I’m thinking that the pro forma on this looks pretty darn good,” he said.
Keating also suggested a better bargain could have been struck.
“Let’s leave no illusions here: this is 93 per cent a market rental building,” he said.
The project includes 14 non-market units leased to the YWCA and four units set to be leased at 10 per cent less than average rents for at least 10 years.
The partnership with the YWCA is commendable, according to Coun. Linda Buchanan, who addressed the challenges faced by single mothers over the past few decades.
“The numbers of women lone parenting has gone up and our real estate market has substantially turned itself up on its head,” she said.
This project will give women a chance to break out of the cycle of poverty and return to the workforce, she said.
Mussatto reminded his colleagues that council – not staff – established the city policy requiring 10 per cent of new units be offered at 10 per cent below market rents for 10 years.
“We’re the ones that set this policy,” he said.
The project’s floor space ratio, which measures total floor space against lot size, would be 6.25. To reach that number, the developer is set to buy 83,672 square feet of density from two city-owned sites at $115 per square foot for a total of $9.62 million. That money may go to some sort of Lonsdale Avenue transportation project, Mussatto suggested.
“If they can’t live here, at least they can get here,” he said.
The project’s setbacks limit what Coun. Don Bell called the Lonsdale “canyon effect.”
Bell based his support on the project’s proximity to the Harry Jerome rec centre, but also suggested the city may need to revise their affordable housing policy given the “dire shortage” of affordable accommodations.
The site is ideal for hospital staff, police officers and firefighters, according to Coun. Holly Back.
“We need housing for these people because they don’t always start those jobs being able to afford to buy in North Vancouver,” she said. “It’s been a concern of mine that our emergency response people are not living on the North Shore because we don’t have decent rental housing for them.”
The YWCA-operated units will be a boon to single parents, noted YMCA manager Andrea Welling.
“I know from direct experience how difficult it can be to find affordable housing as a single parent,” she said.
The project is much-needed, according to Landlord BC CEO David Hutniak, who noted that a tight rental supply can lead to renters spending more and more of their take-home pay on housing.
Hutniak also stated that it behooves the city to add to the rental stock, given that about 93 per cent of the city’s current rental stock is 36 years old or older.
The building will offer options for young people who can’t seem to break into the rental market, according to Bailey Mumford, North Shore manager for the Lookout Emergency Aid Society.
“We have people that are working constantly, saving their money and looking for rentals on the North Shore, but are unable to actually find housing,” he said, suggesting the projects gets people “in the door, off the streets.”
With a total of 255 units spread between the two buildings, the city’s bylaws require 153 residential parking spots. The developer is offering 137. However, given the development’s central location and proximity to transit, city staff supported the parking variance. The project would also include 396 spots for bicycles.