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‘We can’t leave it vacant,’ says councillor of Onni site

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

A 13-year-old decision to designate land in Steveston's Imperial Landing to serve the fishing industry was a "mistake," said Richmond council's chair of planning.

"Things have changed immensely in the last little while," said Coun. Bill McNulty. "People can't fish."

On Tuesday, the committee reserved its decision on a rezoning proposal from Onni that would open up a restrictive maritime mixed use zoning on the ground floors of six new Bayview Street buildings. Onni built them despite failing to change council's mind in earlier attempts.

McNulty said the proposal will be back on the planning committee's agenda at a public meeting Wednesday, April 23, to hear the developer's responses to fresh feedback from elected officials. Councillors’ demands this time include a further examination of space for a public library and marina, ensuring maritime uses would take priority and giving more thought to a Steveston Merchants' Association proposal of reserving space for maritime, office and general commercial.

The 20-year councillor said the fishing industry isn't what it once was, and that he's not opposed to the rezoning.

"We can't leave it vacant. People want to live there," he said. "Onni has made some good suggestions of businesses that could enhance the village of Steveston."

But McNulty said Onni's offer of $1.5 million for council to spend on public amenities in Steveston isn't enough. He's advocating for a library space, which would allow the current neighbourhood branch to vacate Steveston Community Centre, freeing up room for a fitness facility expansion.

Onni has told the city it's willing to lease space for a library at a rate of $25 per square foot, but the Richmond Public Library board lacks a funding source to make a deal.

McNulty acknowledged "there's a lot of mistrust" surrounding Onni and its contentious rezoning bid that has the community divided. He said it's time developers pay for their fair share, instead of the city shouldering the burden of building amenities to accommodate new residents.

"People are not happy, but the developing community is getting away with an awful lot. What we've got to do is up the ante, not just Onni, but all the developers. They've had a pretty good ride in the community."

If Richmond's five-member planning committee votes in favour of rezoning, the file would advance to city council. If approved there, a public hearing would follow.

After a second favourable council vote—and provided Onni meets all conditions imposed by council—the developer would be able to move ahead with its proposal.

Instead of boat repair shops, marine equipment stores and fish auctions, Onni wants to lease space to a Nesters Food Market, bank, daycare, dentist and other businesses.

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