In a 6-1 vote

Bill Murray Drive condos greenlighted

SwissReal Group’s eight-storey, 72-unit condominium on Bill Murray Drive is good to go.

SwissReal Group’s eight-storey, 72-unit condominium on Bill Murray Drive is good to go.

The project, which also includes a medical building alongside it, has received the City of Prince Rupert’s backing from the mayor and council, ho passed its rezoning application – six to one.

Coun. Joy Thorkelson was the lone council member who voted against the project.

The new zoning allows buildings up to 35 metres in its C6 downtown highrise designation, thus allowing SwissReal’s condo project.

Expecting to break ground in 2016, SwissReal vice president Jeremy Towning explained last week that the development is not LNG-dependent and will be moving ahead as planned.

“We’re building. To give you an example I have 35 townhomes I’m building right now in Terrace. There’s no LNG and I’m building,” the vice president said, who heads the northern division of SwissReal’s real estate portfolio.

The project received a lengthy public hearing process last Monday, with eight members of the public making their opinions known on the development.

Many were in favour of the development, and a few outright opposed. The main concerns were the height, which some claimed blocked the waterfront view corridor of buildings behind it, specifically the Harbourside Apartments; a loss of privacy for townhomes in the area; council’s honouring of the city’s existing Official Community Plan; the sheer height of the building; a lack of affordable housing options on the property and traffic and parking congestion.

Responding to those concerns over the past nine months, Towning and SwissReal distributed studies including view corridor sightlines, relocating the building a few feet from the sidewalk to make the area pedestrian-friendly and planting more trees in the area.

The project will also see the purchase of city property to configure a parking lot in the land next to the North Coast Meeting & Convention Centre, which drew the concern of Marlene Thornbury, general manager of Chances Gaming and Convention Centre Prince Rupert. But Chances had the option to buy the lot from the City before and declined. The lot does not contribute taxes before the purchase by SwissReal.

“[City of Prince Rupert economic development officer] Paul Vendittelli has been really supportive of the project and has helped guide us through and [city planner] Zeno [Krekic] has been really effective. He took all the concerns and he’s been the intermediary, working with the city and the public to get this building proper,” said Towning.

“So we set it back by 4.5 metres, so that we’re not too close to the townhomes next door and we added 60 trees and we got rid of some commercial [space] and added residential, so that there would be less noise from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday.”

City council and Mayor Lee Brain gave some insight into their voting rationale. Joy Thorkelson said that in speaking in opposition, the developers haven’t taken into account the city’s interest in providing affordable housing options to the community and the developers are asking council to change the city for their own benefit.

Coun. Barry Cunningham and Coun. Wade Niesh responded, saying that the city can’t force developers to co-operate and place affordable housing units in a building not suited for such.

“Who’s here to speculate and who’s here to develop in our community. That’s our job [to differentiate the two] and to extract money to affordable housing. We can’t force developers to co-operate. There’s a number of ways we can do this,” said Cunningham.

“This is how you alleviate problems. This isn’t about what you make on your paycheque,” said Niesh.

“[Potential residents] could be a teacher, it could be seniors looking to downsize their lives … It creates a domino effect. Slum lords who want to charge more, can’t anymore [because of more options],” Niesh continued.

Coun. Blair Mirau said that “this is obviously not an affordable housing project.” Mirau went on to say that the physical geography of Prince Rupert dictates that with the limited land base available, projects need to densify downtown and Coun. Gurvinder Randhawa said if Prince Rupert has no condo options for retiring seniors that they’ll move somewhere else. Randhawa also asked the developers to use local workforces when they can.

Cynthia Pyde, who has partnered with SwissReal on the development, told council at the outset of the public hearing that herself and Dr. Frank Pyde (owners of the property) have always wished to have a medical clinic that was accessible on the first floor or had elevator access for seniors or those with physical disabilities.

“When we were approached by SwissReal, it was the first time in 20 years that we were approached by a company interested in building green (SwissReal has a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED Platinum rating building in Vancouver and are aiming to make the Bill Murray Drive project Platinum), interested in building condos of good quality and were also willing to engage with an architect who was incredibly terrain sensitive to the environment,” said Cynthia.

“Since its become public knowledge we have been inundated by every imaginable group of people wondering when those condos would be available … it will serve many, many interests on our waterfront.”

 

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