Posted: May 25, 2012, 7:07 AM
Lower Lonsdale YIMBY
Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: City of North Vancouver
North Van city hosts lengthy Low Level Road meeting
An expectedly full city council chamber was the scene of an expectedly long open house Wednesday night.
The proceedings marked the final opportunity for the public to share its thoughts on the potential overhaul of the Low Level Road and for Port Metro Vancouver, project coordinators, to outline its preferred design before city council debated and voted on the controversial project on June 11.
Like many of the open houses, community meetings and workshops held to date, worries over the height of the road, changes to local traffic and noise were offered by residents.
And the port had the opportunity to share recent successes such as the 166 feedback forms received from open houses held in March, the 1,200 views of its project video and the 85-per-cent approval rating from respondents who felt the latest design addressed community input.
But the meeting also highlighted a new batch of concerns: unfinished engineering reports from PMV, a lack of access in the design to businesses in the 300 block of East Esplanade Avenue and the question of whether or not a covenant can be placed on the land the city is giving to the port to ensure it remains used for rail purposes.
Data on both the noise and environmental impacts of a new Low Level Road weren't available at the meeting as the port has yet to finish the final drafts of either document. That information, however, is significant material needed to evaluate the project and was repeatedly asked for by both council and residents. Its absence caused each member of council to express their concern that the port had once again arrived at city hall without the requisite information.
"I expected to receive these materials, detailed engineering designs, well in advance of yesterday's meeting," Coun. Pam Bookham told The Outlook, in a phone interview Thursday afternoon.
"They [the port] have had a year. That's ample time to complete this work. We need time to get as many answers as we can. I'm prepared to continue this discussion for as long as it takes."
Councillors Don Bell, Rod Clark, Guy Heywood and Bookham each said they were uncomfortable with the port returning to council on June 11 for a final decision because they felt there isn't enough time for them or the community to digest the forthcoming reports.
In its preferred design option released last month, PMV outlined a handful of changes to East Esplanade Avenue. One of those changes, a new signalled intersection at East Esplanade and St. Andrews avenues, has caught the ire of businesses in the area who worry about the change to east-west traffic the job will bring.
If approved, cars travelling east on East Esplanade will be able to access shops in the 300 block by turning north at the new intersection. Those travelling west will not have the same option and will be forced to turn north at St. Georges Avenue, then head east around the block to get to the stores. Cars going south on St. Andrews will also have to turn west at Esplanade and double-back to get to the 300 block.
Paul McAlduff, owner of Tireland Performance Centre Ltd. at 300 East Esplanade, said restricted access to his and other nearby shops may force customers to look elsewhere because of the comparative ease of getting to similar businesses in other areas. Couple that with the threat of detours during the construction period — assumed to begin in September and to last about 16 months, although not all of that time will be spent working near the shops in question — and McAlduff worries about losing one of his staff because of a possible downturn in sales.
"City council has to be sensitive to local businesses. These businesses are serving residents. You don't want them to start travelling, you want to stay local and it doesn't matter if its auto shops, flower shops or coffee shops," McAlduff told The Outlook.
"We've never said 'no' to the cleanup of the Low Level Road. It is fabulous what they [the port] area planning. But the months of October, November and December are critical months. Conservatively, it represents about 50 per cent of the year's business. If council isn't sensitive to that it will effect staffing and service."
City engineer Doug Pope fielded numerous questions about the proposed design for the intersection and stressed the city had evaluated the area from all perspectives. The final scheme, he added, represented the best option for both safety and access.
As part of of the North Shore Trade Area Agreement, a sweeping plan designed to increase Canada's competitiveness in emerging Asian markets signed by the city in principle a few years ago, land transfers for associated projects have typically been given in-kind and haven't been subject to lease agreements or covenants dictating their future use.
But both councillors Bell and Heywood inquired about establishing a covenant on the city land being given in the deal. The rationale behind the inquiry was city staff's valuation of the land at $15 per square foot, totalling $4 million. That value was assigned under the assumption the land will remain used for rail purposes in the future.
If that use changes to, for example, light industrial concerns, then the plot becomes more valuable — $13 million, according to city estimates — and the city should see a piece of that increase, said Bell.
"It seems to me, if the value of the land is in the $4 million-$13 million range, and that's valued into the package, then that's fine as long as it remains railway use. But if its used for another purpose of higher value in the future then the city should benefit," said Bell.
"It would be a shame to pass up on the economic benefits of those lands in the future."
June 11 remains the date scheduled for PMV's return to council and a final decision on the Low Level Road.
According to a staff report, the city will receive the following improvements if the project is approved:
Drainage, paving and upgrade to the Low Level Road — $7 million.
Slope stability work — $10 million.
Spirit Trail — $6 million.
Sub total — $23 million.
Value of city's financial contribution — $800,000.
Net value of works received by the city — $22.2 million
Estimated value of land contributed by the city — $4 million ($15 per square foot if considered for rail use) — $13 million ($50 per square foot if considered for light industrial use).
Total project cost — $100 million.