Every evening I walk past the unoccupied behemoth that Onni developed at Imperial Landing in Steveston. A few lights flicker in the apartment windows above. Below, vast empty spaces are available for lease by Onni, a company that owns and manages 5 million square feet of commercial property and more than 4,200 rental apartment units.
Current zoning for mixed maritime use is clearly not in the interests of Onni, since Steveston's fishing industry has been shrinking for the past 30 years, with grim prospects as fishermen age into retirement and young people choose less risky work.
The City of Richmond has asked for citizen input on its revised economic strategy, an action plan for the next five years designed to attract business and tax revenue. Coriolis Consulting, hired by the city, recommends increasing "recreational fishing and sailing in Steveston to offset the impacts of the decreasing commercial fleet." (The fleet has shrunk from 1,450 vessels in 1985 to 500-600 today.) City staff is reviewing Onni's third application for rezoning, and the site will remain unoccupied until at least spring.
The reality of the current zoning is that, not only can it not attract fishing related businesses, it competes with the more than 50 businesses that already provide goods and services to the commercial fishing fleet.
Rezoning is inevitable.
Onni needs to lease out its properties. The city needs to collect taxes on our behalf. Coriolis' recommendation of a pleasure craft and recreational fishing fleet would likely satisfy most local residents, who, like me, dread the thought of rumbling delivery trucks
in the wee hours, and increased daytime traffic on a very narrow road.
Of course it doesn't make sense to put a TD Bank on such a beautiful stretch of waterfront. What a waste of a view! Ideally, the businesses that would flourish on the Imperial Landing strip would integrate the location into their business plan. Nestors, which expressed interest in the No. 1 Road location, would suck up 30 per cent of the retail space, and bring in trendier, more expensive foods. Many residents would welcome the merchandise, but few would be happy with the delivery noises and clogged parking.
Local BC waters are considered the second most beautiful in the world, and Steveston one of the region's heritage jewels (along with Fort Langley, Gastown, Granville Island, Lower Lonsdale et al.) Steveston's setting, history and charm make it a wonderful attraction for residents and tourists. The city has all kinds of tools to protect Steveston from commercial developments that will kill its current businesses. It has a mandate to protect and reinforce Steveston as a community asset and visitor attraction.
The long dock in front of Imperial Landing has already begun to attract weekend sailors. This weekend I counted three vessels and more than 40 recreational fishers on that dock. With a few more docks and amenities, houseboats and liveaboard vessels could moor alongside transient vessels. Businesses that serve this population would grow and attract the population that would support existing Steveston businesses.
Finally, I would like to suggest that, as compensation for the bumbling way the zoning has been handled, the city and Onni agree to move the Steveston Public Library to Imperial Landing. Now that would be a good use of the view, and of the space. As a nod to visitors, a Chapters/Indigo kiosk could provide the books that visitors without library cards want to buy.