Richmond residents want more from Onni over Imperial Landing development

The Steveston boardwalk has been subject to rezoning applications from Onni Group for over a decade. In 2012 the developer constructed six buildings on maritime/industrial zoned land, which it paid for in 2001. Onni, for a fourth summer in a row, is now seeking more lucrative commercial zoning on the site. Feb. 2016 | Richmond News files

Richmond City Hall council chambers is scheduled to hold round two of one of the most controversial public hearings in the city’s history November 20 at 7 p.m.

The crux of the debate surrounding Steveston’s empty boardwalk buildings at Imperial Landing is expected to be how much developer Onni Group should pay to have the site rezoned.

Essentially, are taxpayers getting a good deal, or is the developer reaping too many benefits?

That contribution decision will be based on how much the land value will increase if and when the six buildings go from maritime use zoning to commercial use, including the prospects of a hotel (commercial lease rates are more profitable).

“The valuation seems a bit low,” said Coun. Derek Dang, a real estate agent and developer, of Onni’s latest offer, which went from $2.4 million to $3.4 million in the blink of an eye at a public hearing in September.

The valuations Onni and an independent consultant for the City of Richmond came up with are much lower than the figures found by Steveston resident John Roston and real estate agent Sean Lawson.

Roston and Lawson peg the “uplift” value at closer to $12 million, based on nearby lease and return on investment rates. Onni figures the uplift is only about $4 million. 

But Roston questions why Onni’s latest proposal shows lower commercial lease rates than what was stated in 2014. 

Furthermore, one building wasn’t factored into the professional calculations because it has a daycare. 

But should that daycare eventually move, it opens up the possibility of charging more money for the space, argued Roston.

To determine the contribution amount, council and Onni will need to agree on an uplift value and then the cut the city gets. Lawson thinks the cut should be 80 per cent; Onni has suggested 50 per cent. 

Then, there are trust issues surrounding Onni, according to Jim van der Tas, of the Steveston Merchants Association. 

He said merchants like the hotel proposal but remain guarded, noting there is no legal guarantee it will be built. The merchants’ overall concern is new retail stores competing with them.

While a solution is sought by all sides, Lawson said it shouldn’t be forgotten that Onni built the buildings understanding the zoning at the time.

Council will also have to address significant opposition by area residents to a hotel. Roston noted Onni was caught operating an illegal hotel in Vancouver this year.

Onni didn’t respond to the Richmond News.

Onni lowered land value in 2016

In 2016, Onni Group appealed the land values set by BC Assessment for the Imperial Landing boardwalk development. 

The company successfully argued to lower the property value from $9,718,000 to $7,024,000. As a result, it saved an estimated $36,605 in taxes, in 2016 alone, based on the 2016 business class mill rate. 

According to BC Assessment, businesses may appeal land values based on what a property can actually garner in rent. 

Onni did not respond to News’ inquiries, but it has, in the past, argued it can’t find tenants to lease its buildings under maritime/industrial zoning. 

Richmond News