New container terminal sidesteps city zoning rules

Harbour Link is now operating a container terminal at the east end of Steveston Highway—across the street from a neighbourhood of apartments.  - Matthew Hoekstra
Harbour Link is now operating a container terminal at the east end of Steveston Highway—across the street from a neighbourhood of apartments.
— image credit: Matthew Hoekstra

A container terminal that recently began operating on riverfront land next to 275 homes in Riverport is not a permitted use under the land’s municipal zoning, The Richmond Review has learned.

The property, at the east end of Steveston Highway, is steps away from the apartment buildings of Riverport Flats and Waterstone Pier. It had long been home to a vehicle import business, a permitted light industrial use, but earlier this month a container storage and distribution facility took over the land—stacking containers three-high and loading up to 150 trucks per day.

Outdoor container storage isn’t permitted under municipal zoning. But zoning rules no longer apply to the site, as Port Metro Vancouver—whose jurisdiction supersedes the city’s—bought it last year.

A port official told The Review yesterday the operation is temporary. Harbour Link, which is operating the facility, has a one-year lease with Port Metro Vancouver, and is currently operating on a six-month permit, which lays out conditions for the business.

Port spokesperson John Parker-Jervis said the port approved the permit “much quicker” than usual to deal with a backlog of containers at marine terminals caused by a labour dispute by truckers.

“It is a push to get our supply chain back to normal after that disruption. There has been quite an effect on our ability to meet our requirements to facilitate Canada’s trade. We’re really doing everything we can to get that back to normal, and this is a temporary measure to help with that.”

Parker-Jervis said Port Metro has placed conditions on Harbour Link to ease impacts on the neighbourhood. Trucks must only queue on the site, not adjacent roads, containers can only be stacked to a maximum of three-high, and a maximum of 150 transactions per day are permitted.

“This work will allow the terminal operators and the logistics providers, and really the gateway as a whole, to return the supply back to normal. But it will take a few months.”

The operation set up in five days, blindsiding residents.

“As owners and permanent residents at Waterstone Pier we are shocked and devastated by the unwelcome changes to our neighbourhood,” said Mike and Wendy Graham, in an e-mail to The Review, saying the business has caused their property value to plummet “overnight.”

The Grahams said there should have been consultation with the neighbourhood.

“Not only do we have to look at unsightly containers blocking our view of the river but our traffic is constantly congested in both east and west directions on Steveston Highway with trucks which at times are lined up eight in a row filling the whole road.”

Fellow Waterstone resident Karen Hadman said she was shocked to return to her condo after two weeks away to see containers across the street piled three-high, along with a long line of trucks.

“The only thing worse I can imagine would be a garbage dump,” she said.

Directly across the street is Riverport Flats, a two-building apartment development still in the process of renting out newly-finished units. Project manager Max Kerr said “we approached them to let them know we were concerned on how their activities might impact their neighbours.”

“They said they will do their best to mitigate the impacts on the adjoining residential community. We all exist on the working waterfront where we know recreation, industry and residential all coexist,” he said. “We are hopeful our new neighbours will understand that and act accordingly.”

As part of the original rezoning for the homes in the neighbourhood, the city required the builder to construct the units to withstand expected industrial noise. A covenant was registered against the properties to ensure the building standards were met, and to notify residents of nearby industrial, commercial and rail operations.

But this new level of industrial use wasn’t expected. And despite the port being exempt from municipal zoning rules, Townsend said the port’s own draft land use plan acknowledges the need to be sensitive to environmental issues that impact on its neighbours.

“We would certainly want to work with the port so that concerns are addressed,” he said.

In an interview this week, Waterstone resident Alan Slater wasn’t optimistic neighbours would be heard.

Said Slater: “I don’t see any solutions honestly, because I think the port will do exactly what they want to do.”

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