Pitt Meadows residents say council pandering to developer Onni

Pitt Meadows council is being accused of flip-flopping to allow Onni to build higher and have smaller setbacks for the next phases of its Golden Ears Business Park in South Bonson.

On council’s Tuesday agenda, the changes came under the heading “Minor official community plan amendment,” but South Bonson residents and Coun. Bill Dingwall took exception to the “minor” characterization.

The height of the buildings in the business park would be up to 15 metres, and the greenway surrounding the business park would be from five to 15m.

Dingwall said he and area residents expected the height to be limited to 12m, and the greenways 20m.

“These are two of the most controversial and sensitive issues for this development — buffering and height,” said Dingwall. “And if we get this right, we could make a lot of people happy.”

Dingwall said a report from IBI Group recommended 20m wide greenways, and that councillors had earlier made comments that 15m was too high.

The changes, which come ahead of Onni’s submission of its plans for phases three and four, were supposed to create a better looking industrial park. In May 2016, council asked for new design guidelines for the next phase of the business park, and IBI was hired.

The recommendations adopted by council Tuesday came from staff. Director of development services Kate Zanon explained IBI recommended the 20m setback with five meters for a drainage swale, another five-metre for a walkway and 10m of greenspace between the development and residential neighbours.

The drainage swale would not be needed, though, and this type of drainage has not been used in South Bonson, she said.

Zanon said a five-meter buffer from other industrial properties is standard.

“You typically don’t buffer like [land] uses,” she said.

Dingwall said the changes to the official community plan are being made to match the requests of Onni in its development permit for phases three and four of the industrial park.

Mayor John Becker said the changes are about more than setbacks and building heights. There are changes that will make the next two phases of the development look less like an industrial park than the first two phases.

“We added to the OCP a more stringent set of design guidelines,” said Becker, noting that the changes address more attractive front facades, landscaping, parking in the rear of properties and other criteria intended to make the development look less like an industrial park.

“We don’t want the concrete gulag facing the public,” said Becker.

Taller buildings are being demanded by industry for warehousing, and council would intend the taller buildings be “inside” the development, he added. It is sensible that where the development is up against forest or other industrial buildings, there is less need for buffering, and council needs to strike a balance between what is fair to the developer and impacts on the neighbourhood.

South Bonson residents had expected the buildings to be limited to 12m in height, and 20m setbacks, said Bob Meachen, a spokesman for a group opposing Onni’s plans. He wrote council after the meeting.

“I just said I’m deeply disappointed, and asked one question: What changed?”

Opponents often communicate on the Facebook page Residents United – Golden Ears Business Park Expansion, and there were many posts critical of council after the meeting.

“It’s downright baffling, and the anger in this community is downright palpable,” said Meachen. “This is obviously an about-face.”

At the same meeting, council approved development cost charges to fund Airport Way’s widening to four lines, signalized intersections on Airport Way at Harris and Bonson roads, which are now roundabouts, signalized pedestrian crosswalks in three locations, and other improvements.

The road-widening is a $4.3 million project, the controlled intersections $3 million for both, and the entire cost of the works in the area, $8.5 million.

Dingwall argued Onni should pay for the improvements, and staff agreed Airport Way would be adequate at two lanes without the next two phases of the business park.

“I think Onni should be paying,” said Dingwall. “I think attaching this to the other developers in the community is frankly unfair.”

Becker responded that there are other developments in the area that should contribute, and there is 300 acres of land at the Pitt Meadows Airport with development potential that “the new board is looking at ambitiously.” They will share in the cost of the improvements by paying DCCs.

“Taxpayers will not be paying for that infrastructure,” noted Becker.