The Return of Onni

The North Van Urban Forum has always stated that it doesn’t like to take sides.  If we must declare our loyalties, then we are always squarely on the side of constructive dialogue.  As the revisit of the ‘13th and Lonsdale’ public hearing looms closer and closer, members of the North Van Urban Forum recently accepted an invitation to meet with Onni Vice President of Development, Beau Jarvis, and Development Manager, Dionne Delesalle for a friendly chat.  We met on on February 27 2013.

By way of back story, the North Van Urban Forum had been relatively satisfied with the level of community discussion and participation regarding the Safeway site project, and had made few comments – until Onni overreacted to North Vancouver City Council sending the project to a second public hearing.  See those comments here:

At that time the North Van Urban Forum said “It is unfortunate that Onni has apparently decided not to proceed, but as the owners of the site we can expect that they will be back. Hopefully, they will be willing to listen so both Onni and citizens of the City of North Vancouver can benefit.”  It seems that Onni has decided to listen…at least to some extent.

During our meeting North Van Urban Forum reiterated its contempt for Onni’s “attacks” on certain members of City Council that had not supported the project after the previous public hearing.  Mr Jarvis and Mr Delasalle admirably described the situation as regrettable, though they stopped short of apologizing.  They did provide justification for their actions – but our position was, and largely remains, that interference with democratic processes by corporate actors is simply unacceptable.

Onni has made changes to the design that do incorporate the feedback of City residents. These include setting back the building frontages from 13th Street [Post-script: as stated verbally by Onni – though upon review perhaps unsupported by the official plans.  What seems to be true is that they have amended the configuration of retail units along 13th to better animate the street frontage], widening the pedestrian access to Stella Jo Dean Park, as well as other changes. The changes are encouraging and do show Onni’s ability to listen and make changes.  There will always be aesthetic differences, no doubt, and we’ll hear more of these at the hearing on Monday night, but substantive criticisms require substantive responses.

During the meeting Mr. Jarvis and Mr. Delesalle explained the significant challenges that Onni felt it had to overcome within the development variance process.  Indeed, as a group that advocates for transparency, we felt that Onni has not really had a lot of consistency or  clarity from our municipal government in terms of what would be required to build their project.  They showed us the repeated changes, sunk costs, and efforts to get the project to where it is today.  City Council and staff need to look at the Onni process and document lessons learned, to prevent a similar situation from recurring.  Members of the North Van Urban Forum came away from the meeting with the feeling that the City, its residents, and developers could do better in the future if we learn from this.

The North Van Urban Forum encourages residents to go and visit Onni’s display centre on East 14th Street. Talk to Dionne Delesalle and Beau Jarvis, and find out more about this development before attending Monday’s Public Hearing.