Onni project must provide a real benefit to residents
Kudos to the City of Richmond planning committee for repeatedly rejecting the rezoning requests for the Onni Imperial Landing buildings. The councillors are insisting that the project provide a real benefit for Steveston residents and not just a lot of cash for Onni.
The rezoning process has shown the critical flaw of leaving it to Onni to run the consultations with Steveston residents. The original consultations were in a public meeting format where one of the residents stood up and suggested that one of the buildings be allocated to a new Steveston library. The idea received wide support from those attending. This feedback was never submitted to the city.
Instead Onni waited a year and came up with a different consultation format that excluded public discussion and restricted residents to one-on-one conversations with Onni salespersons. Residents were then handed feedback sheets that asked what kind of retail stores they would like to have in the project without any mention of a library or other community facility such as a museum. These feedback sheets have been used by Onni to say that the residents want retail stores. The rezoning process should be changed to have the city run the consultation process at the developer’s expense.
The planning committee wants Building 5 to be devoted to a new Steveston Library with a low rent on the same basis as that of the Ironwood Library. They should hold out for that no matter how long the buildings sit vacant.
The planning committee also wants a maritime museum in the project. The idea was rejected by Onni and city staff on the basis that there is not sufficient space. The Richmond Museum has approximately 2,000 sq. ft. of display space. Building 6 of Imperial Landing has more than 9,000 sq. ft. of space. Yes it would be a small museum, but there are lots of small museums in the world that attract large numbers of visitors. It could be an educational Museum of River Ecology that explains what is happening in the waters off Steveston where the Fraser River meets the ocean. Rather than displaying large objects, the museum could consist of computerized displays showing real time data on the marine environment.
Few residents know that there is an underwater observatory off Richmond, maintained by the University of Victoria, that transmits real time data from a number of marine science sensors. Have a look at: www.oceannetworks.ca/introduction-fraser-delta. This research could be explained including why it is important to us, such as earthquake prediction.
There could also be displays explaining the ship traffic that passes right by Imperial Landing including fishing vessels, commercial freighters and coast guard patrol boats. Large vessels carry satellite transponders, just like aircraft, that give their position, speed, compass heading and destination. This information is displayed on interactive maps where you can click on the marker for a ship and find out all about it. See www.vesselfinder.com/ or www.marinetraffic.com/en/ and zoom in on the map to Steveston to see how it works. Information could be added on Steveston based vessels that introduce you to the crew and what they do. Some of the smaller Steveston fishing vessels could be subsidized to install transponders, a major safety enhancement for them quite apart from the benefit to the museum.
Such a museum is not just for tourists; it could also attract Richmond residents by addressing local issues such as presenting both sides of the controversy over what sorts of cargo should be allowed to pass by its door, including jet fuel and coal, so that residents can educate themselves on managing their environment.
The operating costs of the museum could be financed by the shipping industry. For example, many of the vessels passing by Imperial Landing belong to Seaspan whose North Vancouver shipyard has recently received an $8 billion dollar shipbuilding contract from the federal government.