Thursday, April 15, 2021

Prince Rupert Council gets short preview of proposed micro-hotel for Park Avenue

A diagram of a proposed Micro Hotel for the Park Avenue area
(from the Public Hearing Presentation Monday evening)

When we last left the Zoom Council chamber at the end of March, the members of Prince Rupert City Council were being cautioned by City Manager Robert Long that their discussions on a proposed hotel development were encroaching on some concerning areas, with Mr. Long twice issuing a stern note for Council to consider how they were speaking to the issue on the night.

Monday night, the Council members once again found the hotel proposal on their radar, that as the proponents of what would be the city's newest hotel took advantage of Monday's Public Hearing into the Official Community Plan to offer up a snapshot of their plans.

Mr. Danny Macgregor of the b&a planning group made the proponents case for the development, providing some details towards the proposed development with long time Prince Rupert resident and local businessman Parm Sandhu as one of the investors. 

Mr. MacGregor noted that after some consultation with the city's contract planners at iPlan, they have revised the scope of their application to the city for the property, reducing their proposal from a 120 unit complex to a 60 unit concept with sixty six parking spots, which will mean they won't have to apply for any variances related to their development.

The planner for the proponents also outlined the range of documentation that they have submitted such as a building permit application and their access to the highway submission to the Highways department.

Mr. Macgregor reviewed the history of the lot in question, currently zoned as C2 but one which Council would look to be changing to residential with their new Official Community Plan.

As for what the hotel will look like if their proposal makes it the finish line, the proponents would construct a modular 3 storey structure as a permanent structure on the site. The building to feature 20 suites on each floor, with the development featuring kitchens, lounges, laundry facilities and elevators to list some of the amenities.

The focus for the clientele of the hotel would be that of travellers, backpackers, students, families and potentially workers who may be arriving in town for port related job opportunities.

Mr. Macrgegor explained how the proponents will be meeting the new OCP, highlighting how the hotel will be an investment into the city's future providing for high quality and necessary accommodations to meet the needs of the community.

He also noted that the modern, attractive development would help to revitalize the city's Midtown and Downtown area, with their guests making their way into those areas just ten to fifteen minutes away.

What brought the proponents to Council was the discussion over zoning for the site, with their planner noting that surrounding buildings were all zoned for commercial and how in their view the area in question would not be suitable for residential development owing to the nature of Park Avenue and the major highway status that it has.

"We hope that the C3 zoning can be maintained on this site, that it will not be rezoned to RM2. We believe that the C3 zone makes sense at this location, on a major highway leading into downtown Prince Rupert from the Ferry Terminal. The RM2 zone, as I mentioned would probably be less desirable along this busy highway, less desirable for multi family developments. The proposal that we're looking at which has a building permit submitted for, a new modern, high quality well designed hotel. So numerous benefits provided to the city and definitely an investment into Prince Rupert's future as the economy and the port continues to grow and provide for much needed accommodations" 

The Public Hearing portion of their presentation included a number comments in support of the development led by Mr. Sandhu.

He was joined by Andrea Pollock and Brian Hanna who shared what they thought the hotel would bring to the community as well as to appeal to the city to give their proposal a consideration and a favourable review.

"When I bought this property, actually it started much earlier, I attended the Vision 2030 meeting at the Lester Centre, we got really excited at that meeting, as I spoke to you Lee before at that gathering. I invited a bunch of my friends and investors into the city for them to see it irst hand what Prince Rupert is all about and where we are going with this 2030 vision ... everybody liked it, it was a night to celebrate everybody was pumped up, so was I and so we're my investors and that's where the story started.

We had this project in mind, and then we looked for the land which we found and purchased, it had the proper zoning and we could realize our dream ... we came with this unique idea from Europe, in Japan, in Asia we want to run with with it, please keep the zoning intact and give us a fair chance at getting our dream realized. "-- Parm Sandhu, one of the investors in the proposed micro hotel for Park Avenue

The comments from the developers side of the proposed project can be viewed from the City's Video Archive for the Public Hearing starting at the 28 minute mark.

Council would return to the topic as part of their Regular Council session later in the evening, with Mayor Brain making note of the unusual situation that Council was in having only seen their first glimpse of the details of the proposed development earlier in the evening, with the Mayor seeking some guidance from their contract planners.

"So now we find ourselves in the middle of you know a process that is kind of moving forward with staff, and now them asking Council to consider doing something that's contrary to what we were moving forward on. I think it would be great to hear from the planning team  on what exactly Council's options are here ... This is the first time that the community has even seen this project and council has not been involved with it. However we are in the in between time between transforming into a new zone and and them in the  process. So is there any sort of clarity or recommendations that the planning team can outline for Council here based on the fact that this is our first glimpse into this project that was first presented to us tonight"

Rob Buchan spoke for iPlan, first explaining that if Council did change the zoning map and the bylaw they would then require another Public Hearing.

As for the project in question, Mr. Buchan noted that if the applicant took action before the adoption of the new OCP and bylaws, that they could submit a building permit and lock in the rights that they enjoy under the current zoning. 

Further to that the contract planner provided his view of how the process may unfold in the near term.

"I don't anticipate that this bylaw, because of the process that it still has to go through with Ministry of Highways, will be back before four weeks, a month, possibly longer. So, I spoke with the applicants planner post Public Hearing and just said how far along are you with the building permit application and my impression is that they are just a couple of weeks out. So if they get the complete building permit application in they will be able to build the proposed hotel" -- Rob Buchan from iPlan

Mr. Buchan also observed that should the applicants not get their application in place in time, they could also seek out a rezoning of the land just as everybody does noting that it is Council's obligation to do consider any rezoning application.

The Mayor followed up noting that the proponent would seem to have the time put their project forward and complete the necessary approvals under the existing timeframe and then later on if they do or don't get their building permit  Council could discuss it then.

"This is mainly given that I've just first heard about this project tonight from the public and you know it's kind of awkward timing but we still have to continue our process"

The mayors repeated commentary as to how it was the first that council has heard of the project is somewhat interesting, considering how the topic had been discussed in some form or another at least twice in public session prior to the Public Hearing.

As for comments from the Council membership, Councillor Cunningham opened the discussion, asking why the Council would want to make that area residential, noting of its placement on the highway and how properties in that area normally considered commercial.

"Here we're talking about taking property on a highway and making it residential, I don't know, two driveways versus ten driveways coming out onto a highway ... it just is, to me  just a little mind boggling" -- Councillor Barry Cunningham

The Mayor answered that inquiry by reminding the Councillor of the many past conversations that council has had related to development of that area.

"Well, I'll quickly answer I guess, it's because we had a very robust discussions about not having any commercial zones outside of the downtown, especially on that area. That's why, generally speaking we decided to as a group move forward with RM which has been the discussion for the last few months. So in line with how we wanted the midtown and the new downtown to be kind of outlined, that is why we were moving forward for that and had received community support for the definition of to do it that way. You know Council hasn't been involved with this project in particular which is why it's coming out at this point  but that is why our intention was to move into that area, to keep that area a residential area" -- Mayor Lee Brain

The contract planner spoke to the theme of putting residential in that area, with Mr. Buchan noting how the. location is on a transportation and transit corridor, considered to be best planning advice and how it was common in other communities..

Councillor Randhawa spoke about not wanting to punish anyone looking to develop, suggesting that Council should give the proponents a chance and nobody should be pushed to change the bylaws and to see where the process was in four weeks.

Councillor Wade Niesh who had dipped at toe on the topic at a previous council session also spoke to the topic on the night.

"Well this has been, it's an interesting conversation at an interesting time, because this conversation wouldn't even be part of it if we weren't doing the OCP, if this proponent had wanted to build something you know  two years ago then the zoning would have been there. That being said you know we have started a process with them and working on this zoning and I think it sounds like they are far enough along that they can get a building permit in and get their project going on the current zoning ... I think that the way it sits right now is these proponents have essentially at least a month to get their building permit in,  to apply for it under their current zoning and if for whatever reason they can't make that happen and we do decide to go ahead with these zoning changes in a month then from that point, just like Rob had said  ... we're required to hear any applications for rezoning." -- Councillor Wade Niesh

The contract planners offered some final thoughts on the issue,  noting that they continue to work with the applicants and will report back to council, with Mr. Buchan's final comment one of a cautionary note for the council membership for the path ahead.

"But I do want to emphasize that the reporting back to Council needs to be from staff and administration. With the closing of the Public Hearing, you know Council has probably heard this before, but once a Public Hearing is closed; council members, or as a body can't be taking questions or speaking with a proponent or with the community about those bylaws until they have rendered their decisions. Otherwise that can create some legal problems" -- contract planner Rob Buchan

Councillor Blair Mirau was one of the last to speak and he seemed to pick up on a comment from Councillor Cunningham from earlier in the discussion,  noting of how the larger goals of the OCP should be the focus for Council.

"I think it would be mind boggling for us to hold up a transformative community wide plan for the sake of a single project, when they do have two avenues to approach the city.  As the applicant said to achieve their dreams, they can either put in a building permit in the next four weeks ... or they can come back to us for rezoning so I think there are multiple avenues at their disposal here so I hope we can get back to talking about the wider zoning bylaw and the Official Community Plan"  -- Councillor Blair Mirau

The full back and forth on the topic can be viewed from the City's Video archive starting at the 52 minute mark.

Some of our past notes on the Park Avenue proposal can be reviewed below:

March  26 -- Any progress for proposed Micro Hotel development for Park Avenue may all come down to timing of application
March 8 -- Council to review planers recommendations tonight, as they prepare to make a decision on application for proposed Park Avenue Micro-Hotel

More notes on the Monday council session can be reviewed from our Council Timeline feature

A wider overview of past Council themes can be examined from our Council Discussion archive.

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