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Onni site a 'solution' for cramped Steveston library

Onni is offering the city a new riverside space for Richmond Public Library's Steveston branch that would triple its size and welcome bookworms for at least 20 years.

The developer has been given a rough ride at city hall in a quest to rezone its final Imperial Landing property. Undeterred by failed attempts to loosen rules restricting ground-floor commercial space to maritime-related businesses, Onni built six buildings on Bayview Street anyway.

It now hopes the promise of a public library will convince council to approve rezoning.

Onni has made three offers of library space to the city. Staff say just one is viable—a 12,929-square-foot ground-floor space in a Bayview building that straddles English and Ewen avenues. The city would get it at a "reasonable market rate" of $25 a square foot for the first 10 years, according to a report from planner Sara Badyal. Onni would give the city a break on rent for the first five years—one-third of the space would be rent-free—and later increase the price to $30 a square foot at year 20.

"(The so-called) Building 5 would provide a 20-year solution for library services in Steveston that would meet community needs and relieve pressure on the Brighouse branch," noted Badyal.

Turning the space into a library would cost the city $3,655,460, in addition to new annual operating costs of $426,315. But Onni has also upped its cash offering for a so-called "Steveston community amenity"—to be spent at council's discretion—by $500,000 to a total of $2 million.

City council's planning committee is set to consider the proposal today.

The current Steveston library branch is a 3,919-square-foot space inside the Steveston Community Centre.

Council's planning committee chairperson, Coun. Bill McNulty, has championed the idea of a new library, which would allow the current branch to vacate the community centre and free up room for a fitness facility expansion.

Richmond Public Library's facilities plan lists an expanded Steveston branch as a top priority. It has woes similar to the 4,712-square-foot Cambie branch.

"Neither branch is able to offer such basic library services as quiet study space, meeting rooms and computer learning centres. Other services, such as general seating, computer workstations, collections space and programming space are woefully inadequate for the population served."

The Onni lease proposal is similar to one already in place in Ironwood—only pricier. The city pays just $20 per square foot for one-third of Ironwood's 12,500-square-foot space. Taxpayers enjoy the remaining area rent-free.

A similar deal in Steveston doesn't appear to be in the cards.

"Staff negotiated with the applicant to develop more favourable lease terms in keeping with the Ironwood branch provisions, but the applicant advised the offer provided is the best they are willing to provide," noted Badyal in her Tuesday report.

The city has already been offered a good deal, according to Onni consultant Danny Leung. In a letter to the city, he noted the current market rental rate at Imperial Landing is $32 to $35.

Contingent upon the deal is the city allowing Onni the freedom to lease and operate the remaining ground-level spaces as it wishes. Onni is eyeing leases with a Nesters grocery store, a dentist and a bank.

The prospect of a library prompted some residents to write letters of support to the city. In her correspondence, Christine Durgo called it "the best idea put forward ever."

"As a Steveston resident who regularly uses both the library and the gym at our local community centre it has been apparent to me for quite some time that both facilities are too small and overcrowded."

John Roston said a library would "be a major enhancement" in Steveston, despite not meeting the library's dream of a 25,000-square-foot facility.

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