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Back to drawing board for Darwin/QuadReal redevelopment

Darwin Properties had spent five years planning a major new mixed-use redevelopment in North Vanc...

IMAGE: Darwin Properties and Quadreal had proposed this mixed-use development for a North Vancouver redevelopment property. (Courtesy Darwin)

Darwin Properties and QuadReal had proposed this mixed-use development for a North Vancouver redevelopment property. (Courtesy Darwin)

Darwin Properties had spent five years planning a major new mixed-use redevelopment in North Vancouver, but the District of North Vancouver mayor and councillors weren’t entirely sold on the idea.

Council voted against the proposal to advance the rezoning to a public hearing by a vote of 4-3 on Monday, with the height of a 12-storey strata condo building the most contentious issue. There were also concerns about the amount of density in an area with limited roadway infrastructure and the loss of industrial land.

Darwin Properties had partnered with QuadReal Property Group on the plan to build 374 condos, 99 market rental units, 80 units of below-market housing and retail space. Five buildings would have replaced 58 units of existing apartment stock built in the 1970s and a couple of industrial buildings.

The 553 residential units and 10,635 square feet of commercial space would have greatly boosted density in Maplewood Village Centre and provided 58 units of rental that are 25 per cent below market rate. They also planned live/work units, recreation space and a new transit stop.

Although company representatives were not commenting following the decision, a publicist for Darwin said it is considering its next steps.

“A lot of good” in Darwin/QuadReal proposal

Darwin president Jason Turcotte had opened his presentation to council commenting on the “extraordinary effort” put into the proposal.

“I cannot recall any private sector development application that achieves so many policy objectives at one time,” he said of the proposal, which aimed to fulfill district goals for low-carbon emission buildings, access to transit, affordable housing and protection of existing residents from displacement.

Mayor Mike Little said, “there is a lot of good” in the proposal and commended the developer particularly on the program it had developed for protecting residents from displacement.

However, he added he’d previously been clear with the developer that he had concerns about the 12-storey building height of the proposed mass timber condominium.

“There’s no question I applaud the developer for going above and beyond on the support for the current residential tenants. I do think that is a really great program he has proposed for that and I do want to see the transit initiatives expanded into this area,” said Little.

“I am just not supportive of the tower format in this area. . . . I have told the developer for years now I’m not supportive and I’m not going to change my view on that.

“The other issue I have generally is that 2.5 FSR is the maximum that you can build on this site. I think that over 500 is too much for this area. I’d like to see that trimmed down a little bit.”

Development will come to the site

Coun. Megan Curren said the 12-storey tower would not receive community support and also voted against the plan.

The developer was asked what would happen with the property were this project not to proceed.

Turcotte said the age of the existing multiresidential rental buildings on the site would still necessitate change of some kind. He said significant updates are required, regardless of the success of the rezoning application.

“The status quo is not an option for this property should it not proceed on the development scheme we proposed, or one similar to it,” he explained. “To think it would continue in the current state is false thinking. . . . Development would be required in some way, even if it’s a substantial renovation.”

Tenants would likely not be able to remain, he said.

“Perhaps council could consider a reduction of height? We are happy to do that, to explore a reduction of the 12-storey component. But short of some redevelopment or another, the property will not remain as it is today.”

The three properties to be consolidated are 2131 Old Dollarton Rd., 2102 Front St. and 2120 Front St. In keeping with the official community plan, Darwin planned to address a sustainability goal with a 12-storey mass timber strata building and homes that don’t use fossil fuel.

Construction with mass timber can drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions compared with conventional concrete and steel.

They had hoped to begin construction in 2023 after the proposal had gone through a public hearing and development permit approvals.

The first phase of the plan includes 139 strata units and the 80-unit non-market rental building. The 138-unit mass timber condominium would be built in the second phase, along with a 97-unit strata building and a 99-unit market rate rental building.

Darwin acquired site in 2016

In an interview prior to the council decision, Darwin senior development manager Chris Wilkinson said they purchased the site in 2016, before the district had adopted its official community plan in June of this year.

They had felt they’d ticked all the boxes, including the delivery of 32 per cent rental housing.

“We purchased it in 2016 and saw the goals of the district in identifying Maplewood as a village centre that would be targeted for growth and over that time we have been working with staff and the community in digesting that input, really since 2017, to inform the application that we have,” he said.

The plan was to minimize disruption to existing residential tenants by building the 80-unit non-market building where the industrial buildings currently stand.

Residents of the 58-unit Maplewood Gardens would then have first dibs on units in that building. Darwin was in early discussions with Crown corporation BC Housing to manage the building.

“It’s been instrumental to our plan all along  in trying to respect our tenants’ wishes,” said Wilkinson. “Rental rates that you’d expect from a 1970s building are very different than what new market products would demand.

“So we have done everything we can to work with the district and their policies and our partners in QuadReal in developing a mix that is supported by BC Housing and will allow those 58 tenants to move into the new building if they choose to.”

Darwin Construction got its start in 1987 and has built homes, shopping centres and commercial and institutional buildings throughout the province. In more recent years, the company has moved into development of residential and commercial properties.

“It’s a family company,” said Wilkinson, who lives in North Vancouver. “We can leverage the expertise that dates back to the ’80s in building-out communities on the Northshore.”

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