Onni bolsters Steveston rezoning bid

Participants in a fitness class utilize space around Onni’s vacant Imperial Landing development for resistance training on Monday.  - Sophie Manfredi
Participants in a fitness class utilize space around Onni’s vacant Imperial Landing development for resistance training on Monday.
— image credit: Sophie Manfredi

Steveston could become home to a new neighbourhood grocery store, daycare, dentist, bank and a cluster of small retail and commercial operators if a developer wins city council’s favour.

Onni’s long-running bid to rezone its Imperial Landing properties was back in the hands of council’s planning committee Tuesday. After more studies and concessions, the developer hopes elected officials will have a change of heart.

“Overall, a retail concept that blends the types of uses that serve the regular day-to-day needs of local area residents as well as visitors to the Steveston Village and the waterfront promenade will help to create a retail precinct that is busy and vibrant on a year around basis, useable by all, and is sustainable,” reads a new Hume Consulting Corporation report supporting Onni’s proposal.

Despite stumbling in numerous other rezoning attempts, Onni went ahead and constructed six low-rise buildings along Bayview Street east of No. 1 Road knowing use of the 59,648-square-feet of commercial space under the 52 rental apartments would be restricted to maritime-related businesses.

City planners say Onni has now addressed concerns expressed by councillors last fall, and are recommending a zoning change to allow a range of businesses beyond boat repair shops, marine equipment stores and fish auction houses.

“Onni…is requesting that the city allow a wider range of uses on their maritime mixed use site for improved economic viability and to enhance the community with uses to serve residents’ needs,” noted planner Sara Badyal in a report yesterday.

Nesters Food Market and TD Canada Trust are among potential tenants Onni has lined up.

Onni’s application is largely the same as presented last fall, but is now bolstered by a pair of consultants’ reports and a Mustel Group survey that suggest there’s demand for more general commercial space—not  maritime-related businesses.

The survey polled 201 Steveston residents by telephone in January, finding eight in 10 locals shop outside the village for groceries at least once a week. But opinions were mixed on support for a grocery store in Imperial Landing: 38 per cent said yes, 30 per cent said no, and the rest were undecided.

Onni also commissioned Colliers International Consulting to provide an economic analysis of its proposal. Colliers concluded: “[T]he Steveston population generates significantly more demand for retail and commercial floor area than what is supplied locally.”

In the latest proposal, Onni has scrapped its push to add “indoor recreation” to potential uses, caving to concerns about Imperial Landing’s proximity to Steveston Community Centre. The proposal also earmarks Onni’s community contribution of $1.5 million for use specifically in Steveston.

City staff analyzed the possibility of other uses. A public library was ruled out due to lack of funding, and a maritime museum was also dismissed because of a lack of space and the modern design of the buildings.

The Steveston Merchants Association has suggested keeping a quarter of the space for mixed maritime use, and reserving another quarter for retail and the rest for offices, according to city staff.

“Onni advised that it was difficult to commit to this arrangement when the public response they have received supports the rezoning proposal,” noted Badyal in her report.

But in several recent letters to the city, Steveston residents urged council to reject Onni’s request, including Russell Ruttan, who said Onni needs to learn to live up to its agreements.

“I do hope council will stand firm on its original agreement with Onni. If you start backsliding on your agreements with developers like Onni, the citizens of Richmond may bite back.”

Ruttan added the proposal is only about satisfying Onni’s bottom line.

“We do not need more T-shirt, coffee and ice cream shops in Steveston. We need to build and sustain our maritime environment for now and for the future, whether pleasure craft or the fishing industry.”

Jan Drake, owner of Roberts Gallery and Gifts, said in an e-mail that existing businesses that rely on local support during the off-season “just to pay rent” will suffer if Onni’s wish is granted.

“There is not enough traffic—both local and tourist—to think that an increase in retail space would not have negative effects on existing businesses. Maybe if the SkyTrain made it’s way to Steveston, then the increase in visitors would warrant additional retail.”

The mixed maritime use zoning dates to 2001, when city council approved changes to lands long used by B.C. Packers. Two years later Onni made an unsuccessful rezoning attempt, and the file has bounced between Onni, the city and open houses ever since.

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