North Delta will be getting another highrise on Scott Road.
Following a public hearing and heated debate Tuesday evening, Delta council voted 4-3 to give a proposed 29-storey highrise development in North Delta’s Townline Node area third reading, with councillors Jeannie Kanakos, Dan Copeland and Lois Jackson voting against the project, and councillors Dylan Kruger, Alicia Guichon and Bruce McDonald and Mayor George Harvie voting in favour.
The proposed mixed-use development at the corner of Scott Road and 93A Avenue will include 264 market strata residential units — 52 studio, 105 one-bedroom and 107 two-bedroom — and a single-storey podium containing over 3,110 sq. ft. of commercial space, 3,660 sq. ft. of common indoor amenity space and 13,153 sq. ft. of common outdoor amenity space.
A six-storey building at the west side of the property will contain 50 rental units on the first five floors (13 studio, 20 one-bedroom and 17 two-bedroom), 580 sq. ft. of common indoor amenity space on the sixth floor, and 6,070 sq. ft. of common outdoor amenity space.
The rental units will be secured for 20 years through a site-specific rezoning, including 10 units at below-market rates. The project marks the first time Delta has used its legal authority to secure rental housing through zoning, a measure made possible by changes made to the Local Government Act in 2018.
The project will also include a dedicated 3,775 sq. ft. childcare facility large enough for 30 children. Since the application was given first and second reading on May 12, the developer has agreed to transfer ownership of the space to the City of Delta, including the associated outdoor amenity area and parking.
The developer, BM Group, will also be required to provide five per cent of the appraised value of the rezoned land as cash-in-lieu of park land dedication. The funds would be used by the city to buy land in the surrounding area to be used for new public green spaces and greenways within the Townline neighbourhood.
A staff report notes the project complies with the Official Community Plan, the draft Townline Special Development Area Concept Plan and the recommendations of the Mayor’s Housing Task Force for Scott Road released last October.
Throughout the public consultation period, the city received 287 responses relating to the project, including 59 letters, emails, phone calls and virtual engagement comments — 15 in support of the project, 37 opposed and seven listed as “other” — and a petition signed by 242 people, most of whom live within a few blocks of the site, opposing the development.
As well, during the public hearing potion of Tuesday’s over-four-hour meeting, council heard from 23 speakers — 14 in favour of the project and nine opposed.
Those in support of the project cited its compliance with the draft Townline Plan, the OCP and the recommendations of the Scott Road task force, as well as its proximity to transit — both SkyTrain and the forthcoming Scott Road RapidBus — and the need for more affordable housing and rental units in the community.
Those opposed, meanwhile, largely expressed concern over the project’s height and resulting impact on privacy, sun exposure and sight lines, increased traffic and parking needs, environmental impacts on local watercourses, safety relating to the adjacent rail line, and the lack of existing community amenities and infrastructure to support the increased density.
On Tuesday, councillors Jackson, Copeland and Kanakos echoed many of those same worries, adding the project will set an unwanted precedent for other development proposals along Scott Road.
Jackson spoke at length, saying the community had been clear in its opposition to the project, especially those who would end up living in its shadow.
“We’ve heard from the north-east sector today. We’ve seen their passion, we’ve seen their concern, we’ve tried to put ourselves in their shoes — I hope you have, because I have. And to have a 29-storey building looking down into my backyard is something I don’t think I would handle well.”
Jackson, who lamented that debate on the issue was done “in haste,” argued the variances and incentives given to the developer, BM Group, were too much for her to support.
Copeland expressed similar concerns, especially about the cash BM Group would be giving in-lieu of park land dedication.
But his biggest concern was the project’s height, arguing it set a “bad precedent.”
“I don’t think that there’s opposition to height, maybe even more than the 14 or 15 storeys [or] up to 18 [recommended by the Mayor’s Housing Task Force for Scott Road], but definitely not in this location,” he said.
Kanakos, who at times seemed to be fighting back tears, asked her fellow councillors to consider the consequences of “loading up” North Delta with more population.
Noting there’s community agreement on the need to revitalize the area, the need for a mix of housing types, more affordability and many of the project’s goals, Kanakos said there’s a “sweet spot” which council should work with residents to find.
“It’s the intensity of this project. It’s the density, the intensity, the height and that it’s a precedent,” Kanakos said. “Why would we not listen to the residents and say okay, let’s find the sweet spot.”
“This isn’t what North Delta wants.”
Kanakos also raised concerned about the pace of population growth in North Delta as compared to Ladner and Tsawwassen, noting it could have “unintended consequences” down the road.
“I just beg you to please try, can we just pull back and try again on this. It’s happening quickly, in a pandemic, and yet it has implications for our community for many, many generations, for the shape and quality of life of North Delta.”
McDonald, noting the proposal was in compliance with the OCP, Townline Plan and Scott Road task force recommendations, countered that the developer had “bent over backwards” to meet the city’s requirements.
“When we put a plan in place and tell people, ‘Come to the table and give us what we want to make this,’ and provide a variation of housing for 314 single or couples, and then we’re going to say we don’t want to do business… I just don’t see this,” he said. “I think it’s one of the best proposals I have seen come forward, and I’ve seen a few.”
Regarding concerns raised by several opponents regarding the building’s impact on air traffic to and from Vancouver International Airport, McDonald cited his 40 years as an air traffic controller and manager at YVR, saying no commercial aircraft would come within 2,000 feet of the building, and adding that, by law, private aircraft in the area cannot be less than 2,000 feet above ground. The tower, for context, would stand at just under 305 feet.
Kruger, in turn, pointed out that the city has been trying to revitalize the Townline Node since 2002 and that this is the first “serious application” that council has received.
“For 19 years, Delta council has been trying to revitalize this tired area but no developer would touch it. Today we finally have a chance to realize the long-standing vision for renewal that has been shared by successive mayors and councillors for decades.”
Kruger noted 21 per cent of the city’s residents are renters, and of those only five per cent live in purpose-built rental housing. Further, he said, rental vacancy rates are extremely low in Delta, hovering between one and two per cent.
“This is the crisis that keeps me up at night in our community. We know that a healthy rental vacancy rate is between three and five per cent. I am so tired of reading on the North Delta Community Corner [Facebook group] all the people who are out of options, who don’t have purpose-built rental accommodations in our community because the supply is so low,” he said.
“Every bit of new housing helps, and those market units can be the difference between staying in Delta or leaving for many people. There is a hierarchy of needs in our community, and housing is number one above anything else.”
Mayor Harvie, speaking just before the vote, reassured council that the city isn’t being over-populated, saying Delta’s growth is “not going very fast.”
“Just because we’re putting one highrise here — that’s what is in front of council today — doesn’t mean that it has to be a series of [projects of] similar sizes or bigger in the future. We will look at what’s best for that development in that area to make sure that it’s not over-populated,” Harvie said.
”But if we don’t have new growth, we’re going to be in a financial situation. We need new growth to support our desire to have recreational facilities, our desire to have more assistance to our community groups. We need reasonable, sustainable new growth.”
Last October, the Mayor’s Housing Task Force for Scott Road identified the area — dubbed the Innovation District/Townline neighbourhood in its report — as one that could accommodate the highest densities and tallest buildings, with the biggest located near 96th and tapering down towards 92nd.
The task force’s vision calls for a mix of live/work townhouses, mixed-use and residential structures up to six storeys in height, and mid- to highrise towers up to 18 storeys high, with the possibility of building up to 29 storeys when developers provide contributions towards community and neighbourhood improvements.
Several features and amenities would “contribute to the Townline Innovation District’s liveability,” including a centrally-located new park surrounded by active ground floor uses to help animate the space, a multi-use greenway trail along the railway corridor and 119B Street that would help link the district to other North Delta neighbourhoods, and a community space that could potentially include a daycare, recreation space, gym and/or youth centre.
“Innovation in design permeates this neighbourhood, with its industrial chic identity recalling the nearby railway and gritty historic uses,” the task force’s report says, noting the area is an ideal place to spearhead new construction materials and take advantage of the province’s push towards mass timber technologies for midrise and highrise buildings.
“While the district redevelops and evolves into a fully realized neighbourhood, existing affordable commercial and industrial properties will be prime locations to attract entrepreneurship, light industrial and creative artisan uses.”