A forty-five storey residential tower looks like it will go ahead, however it’ll take another couple of weeks for city council to give the final approval. After three hours of some times emotional debate, capping off almost two years of planning, the appearance is the Emerald Tower will be zoned for Jasper ave and 114th street.
“It was not going to get voted down judging by the comments I was hearing around the horse shoe there,” said Coun. Scott McKeen who thinks the developer can do better in terms of design, and that council should “set the bar higher.”
“There might have been two or three votes against, maybe four but that would have been about it, so it probably would have passed.”
Instead, a two week time out has been called, to clear up some technical language in the bylaw but not dramatically change any of the design elements. Developer Raj Dhunna told council pushing a decision off until the fall would kill the project.
“We’re not at a total disconnect here. It’s about getting the details right. Because those details send important signals out to other developers,” said Mayor Don Iveson, who called for the recess. “Creating clear and consistent expectations is really important. Otherwise it’s really a free for all and that makes it very difficult for our planners, very difficult for council, and very difficult for people trying to figure out what land is worth.”
The project would see one level of underground parking, street level retail for the length of the block, then three more levels of above ground parking on floors two, three and four of the podium that would be covered in coloured, animated glass. “You won’t see headlights,” said Simon O’Byrne of Stantec who’s working as a consultant on the project.
“We don’t wall of parkades along Jasper ave.,” said Lisa Brown the president of the Oliver Community League fearing that a Pandora’s Box would be opened by giving this element the okay. “There are a number of sites we believe will be rezoning in the near future so we disagree with the developer that this is something that has to happen.”
Suites would be 800 sq ft, at a price point of $350,000 which Brown said would drive Oliver residents out of the market. “That’s something that is an issue in our community. We definitely see that with a lot of these new projects they’re exorbitantly expensive and it’s pushing out people who want to stay in the community and want to raise families in the community and they’re not able to find homes to stay there.”
O’Byrne said there are other issues that the developer doesn’t agree with, like the city insisting that either five percent of units be offered to the city at 85-percent value to be used as affordable housing, or instead a lump sum grant of $750,000 be used for that purpose. “It would be okay if everybody else played by the same rules but the majority of other developers going up in the downtown core do not have that provision so then it puts them at an unfair advantage,” he told reporters.
The vote in two weeks will be on the merits of the 45 storey tower itself, which would book end the The Pearl several blocks away by the same developer. Many on council are in favour of building up, to increase density. Coun. Tony Caterina was adamant that a previous city council decision led them to this new guideline for the downtown.
“We close the airport, the city got what we wanted, we wanted density, we wanted height, here’s the project that’s come forward. And now your guys are concerned. Maybe we should reopen the airport and leave everything at twenty storeys.”
Coun. Mike Nickel said housing at this price point is needed to attract residents downtown. “People, if they don’t have choices in the style of homes they want to live in, they will move to the jurisdiction of their choice that provides them that,” he said.
The hearing resumes June 27.