Historic downtown development gets council go-ahead – again

Mixed-used building in historic downtown needed parking alterations due to tree

A proposed new downtown retail and apartment building got a second approval from council last week, after it revised its plans to deal with a tree on a neighbouring property.

A developer hopes to build a 21-unit apartment building, with retail space on the ground floor, at the corner of Gladys Avenue and George Ferguson Way.

Council had given the project the go-ahead in May, despite the building’s parking plans requiring the removal of a nearby tree on an adjacent property whose owner wanted to retain the tree.

The developer – Pacific Boulevard Investments – wasn’t able to get that neighbour on board, and re-drew its plans for parking. Because those plans involved creating a tighter-packed underground parking lot than automatically permitted by the city, the developer needed council’s approval a second time.

It got that approval last week, but not before Coun. Bruce Banman again raised questions about the building’s design. The Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA) had written letters to the city twice – one in 2018, the other in January 2019 – expressing concern that the project doesn’t fit the historic character of the neighbourhood.

After the first letter, some alterations were made, including the addition of bricks to the building’s facade. But it wasn’t enough to convince the ADBA, and, in January, executive director Jennifer McEwan wrote: “More attention should be given to this site as it is a high visibility corner at the edge of Historic Downtown.”

RELATED: Abbotsford council signals approval of new downtown building, but ADBA says design is wrong

Last week, Coun. Bruce Banman raised the design question again.

“When I compare this to the rest of the buildings in the historic downtown, it looks too modern to me,” he said. “It just doesn’t look as if it fits into the form and character of the historic downtown, at least to my eyes.”

City staff had previously declared the design was appropriate, saying it was a “high-quality development” with a design matching its land-use designation.

In response to Banman, the city’s planners noted that the proposal sits in an area where buildings must have “historic influence,” but face fewer requirements than new developments within the four-block historic downtown core. (At the centre of those four blocks is the intersection of Essendene and Montrose avenues.)

“If this building were in that core, it would not be consistent with the guidelines,” said Darren Braun, the city’s director of development planning.

Unanimous approval was given for the project’s development permit, although it will return to council for public comment at an upcoming meeting.

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