The Sapperton Green project is big, and it will redefine the shape of New Westminster, especially as it is slated to occur on the heels of the expansion of Royal Columbia Hospital and development of the associated Economic Health Care Cluster.

It also is a long-term project. Even at the most ambitious pace, I cannot imagine Sapperton Green building out within 20 years. It is simply too large and too complicated, and the organization developing this new community are not build-it-and-run types, but long term players in developing and managing large real estate investments. One indication of the slow approach being taken here is the pace so far. The project has already seen 5 public open houses, the striking of a community stakeholder group with representatives from the community, and numerous “checking in” reports to Council over more than 5 years of initial planning before a Public Hearing was even scheduled. The developer is taking the slow approach here, and this appears to suit New Westminster Council just fine.

That is why I find this story a little frustrating, as it unfairly presents a confrontational motif to what I expect to be a respectful dialogue between municipalities. The concerns raised by Coquitlam city staff in their report and by their Council at the meeting are excellent, and are remarkably similar to the conversations that have taken place between New West Council and staff, and to the comments I heard from the public at the Open Houses I attended. My feeling (and I cannot speak for all of Council on this) is that Sapperton Green can only be developed in concert with a re-imagining of how the Brunette and Highway 1 interchange operates. Those discussions will (because of jurisdictional requirements, and because it only makes sense) include Coquitlam, the Ministry of Transportation (as owner of the interchange) and TransLink (as administrator of the Major Road Network). As I understand, those conversations have already begun at a staff-to-staff level, where the real expertise resides.

One comment made at Coquitlam Council to which I do take exception is the suggestion that this plan represents New Westminster not working in the best interest of the region. This City, along with Coquitlam, is a signatory to the Regional Growth Strategy and the regional transportation plan known as Transport 2040. We have agreed to take on a fair chunk of the projected population growth in the region, up to 30,000 more people by mid-century. Both of these documents emphasize building dense, compact, multi-use (work, live, and play) development projects adjacent to major transit hubs as the best way to address that growth. They both see development along the SkyTrain corridors as the highest priority to accommodate regional growth, as that is the best way to reduce the impacts and costs of that growth when it comes to transportation, utility infrastructure, and protecting greenspaces across the region. New West has, through the ongoing consultation, made it clear that Sapperton Green must be a mixed-use development, with real job-generation lands (not just a scatter of retail-in-the-pedestal) included with the residential development. I would be hard pressed to find a proposed development in the region that better reflects the long-term regional growth vision than what is proposed for the Braid Skytrain station.

That said, this project is still at a very preliminary stage, and Council has not yet officially provided any approval to the project. The open houses so far are a precursor to an Official Community Plan amendment that would permit the rezoning of the site to a Comprehensive Development District. Only the broadest of zoning principles are being established at this point, and even if this OCP amendment is approved by Council after the Public Hearing, there is a long way to go and a lot of design and amenity discussions to be had before the first concrete gets poured on this site. There will be Public Hearings, there will be more Open Houses, and indeed there will be further consultation with key stakeholders like Coquitlam. The recent report to Council lays out the comprehensive consultation plan, and the City of Coquitlam is #1 on the list of communities we need to be having discussions with. In fact, the report that Coquitlam Council was addressing at the September 8th meeting was sent by New Westminster as part of that longer-term consultation plan.

If I was to put the most optimistic light on this situation, I would think the ongoing consultation is a unique opportunity for the neighbouring Councils to get together and talk about how we can better manage boundary issues like this. There may be areas we fundamentally disagree, but we already share many services and would both benefit from better integration. There is no reason that the inevitable re-alignment of the Brunette overpass and interchange can’t be a project that suits both of our needs (indeed, we may need to work together to assure that is the case, as the Ministry of Transportation may have other needs in mind). Ultimately we both win if we can work together to address knotty issues, as we can both make better decisions for the people who elected us. I’m not sure offsetting Reports to Council and edited comments printed in the media are the most productive way for us to do this.

Maybe we should use Twitter. (Just kidding!)

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