The Elephant in the Room: A Discussion About Best Practices
Story by Sean Lawson
There is an elephant in the room, namely the Imperial Landing waterfront site, as the lower level of the development remains empty and its fate is unresolved.
I think it is fair to say that having the Imperial Landing waterfront occupied would be better than its current “ghost town” condition, but the implications of exactly how this occurs will impact many and shape our village experience for years to come.
The site is currently zoned Maritime Mixed Use (MMU). This zone would allow marine hardware and electronics, the manufacturing and repair of sails and canvas, marine surveyors, lawyers, insurance brokers and architects, marine related subtrades like plumbers and electricians, rigging shops, kayak, canoe and dingy retailers, etc. As an example, think of all the vibrant water-related operations observed on Granville Island. The intent of this zone was to support Steveston’s historic commercial fishing industry and maritime economy by providing appropriate space and opportunity.
The MMU zone was granted and accepted during the original rezoning of the 43 acre Imperial Landing site as a form of “community contribution,” much like a typical townhouse project must build a playground on-site as part of their requirements. In consideration, in part, of the MMU-zoned waterfront parcel, the developer was awarded a very diverse zoning mix for the balance of the site. This included the ability to build commercial retail units (Starbucks, etc.), seven four-storey apartment buildings, three townhouse subdivisions, and single family homes on Easthope and Ewen Avenues, Bayview Street, and Gerrard Place. In addition, there were no affordable housing or childcare conditions imposed on this development in lieu of the MMU “contribution.”
The City of Richmond is working on a plan for a pleasure craft marina in front of this site. Councilor Harold Steves has stated that it is his determined goal to make this happen over the next few years. This would be incredibly beneficial as the Steveston Harbour Authority reports they currently have 265 people on a waiting list to obtain moorage in Steveston. Depending on the size of their boat, when applicants call to apply, they are told that the average wait time is five to ten years for a moorage spot. The boater currently at the top of the waiting list thought moorage was imminent and put his name down in 2003. That’s a 12-year wait! With this type of demand, a marina would be a huge overnight success.
After carefully considering the above, the Steveston Merchants Association (SMA) has put forward a very reasonable, well balanced, and thought-out proposal for the site. Their vision includes the east portion, approximately one third of the site, being rezoned to allow for office space, the middle third would remain MMU and provide services to the proposed marina located directly in front of its doors and the west third would be zoned to allow for retail use. This proposal would be a huge win for the developer as MMU space would lease for $18-$20 per square foot, office space for $20-$25 per square foot, and retail rates could be as high as $40 per square foot (approximations based on current market base rents of triple net leases in the area).
This proposal would preserve the traditional village shopping experience by keeping retail uses and shoppers at the west end of the site, close to the heart of the business district, and not drawing shoppers east into a more residential neighbourhood away from the historic village centre.
Parking your car in Steveston can be extremely frustrating, with spots at a premium during the busy summer season and year-round on weekends. Lots and lanes throughout the village are already at capacity, with visitor parking reaching neighbourhood residential streets. The office and MMU uses would likely not operate into the evenings and weekends, thus leaving pay parking options open. This alone would go a long way to helping our parking problems. In addition, employees of the office and MMU spaces would frequent the village shops and restaurants, adding to the economic viability and vibrancy of the existing village businesses.
I feel if 60,000 square feet of retail space were dumped, seemingly overnight, on the market in Steveston, it would set back the redevelopment of the existing village core by a decade and move the main shopping experience from the traditional core, to which Steveston owes much of its charm, and over to the eastern waterfront. Would this be fair to all the restaurant and shop owners who have made investment decisions through lease or ownership arrangements, including significant investments of time and capital to improvements of these spaces, based on a set of well-established Official Community Plan rules and guidelines?
Just over a year ago, the developer was referred back to city staff for further consult-ation at a planning committee meeting. There have been talks about moving the Steve-ston Library from the community centre to a portion of the Bayview site, which I think is a fantastic idea, but my understanding is that they have been unable to come to an agreement. There currently is no scheduled return visit to the planning committee for this rezoning application and the site remains in limbo. This current state benefits no one. A balanced approach, like the Steveston Merchants Association proposal, will give local residents some of the retail options they covet while enhancing the historic village shopping experience that has made Steveston such a wonderful place to live, work, and visit.