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Lines drawn in Imperial Landing rezoning tussle

It appears the retail/commercial portion of developer Onni Group’s Imperial Landing in Steveston will remain unoccupied until next spring as city staff review more closely a re-zoning application.
Imperial Landing lease sign
Philip Raphael/Richmond News The commercial/retail component of the Imperial Landing development remains empty as the city considers Onni Group's rezoning request.

It appears the retail/commercial portion of developer Onni Group’s Imperial Landing in Steveston will remain unoccupied until next spring as city staff review more closely a re-zoning application.

But that has not stopped both sides in the issue from stating their case whether or not to loosen up zoning restrictions to permit increased commercial use over the original intent to focus primarily on maritime-related enterprises.

One person opposed to the Maritime Mixed Use (MMU) designation is Bob Ransford, a communications and urban design specialist with Vancouver-based Counter Point  Communications.

Ransford, who grew up in Richmond and calls Steveston home, said the MMU is nothing more than a political ploy, that was tried 15 years ago to try and stop development in the area once B.C. Packers sold its property.

“It was basically (Coun.) Harold Steves trying to preserve the old Imperial Cannery building,” Ransford said, adding the zoning was “not well-intentioned at all.”
“B.C. Packers, long before Onni arrived on the scene, told (the city) it was unworkable zoning,” Ransford said.

Ransford, who sits on the Granville Island Trust, which has long tried to maintain that area’s maritime uses, said changes in the way consumers shop for specialty items such as those related to the maritime industry have changed dramatically as brick and mortar locations adjacent to a marine environment have given way to online buying.

“You’ll see, even at Granville Island, there are not many ship chandleries left,” he said.

Leaving the roughly 65,000-square-feet of already built retail space vacant after Richmond’s planning committee last week refused to grant a change will have a negative affect on the core village of Steveston.

After seeing the vacant properties this past summer, Ransford said he almost cried in shame at the lost opportunity.

“It’s my community. It’s my town. I can see the potential,” he said. “I saw people walk by, kinda bewildered looking at these boarded up buildings.
“If people end up being left with an impression that part of the village has a big cavity, like a ghost town, that will turn them off coming to Steveston and spending time at other businesses that exist there now.”

Drawing shoppers away from the village’s core is what Iqbal Ladha, owner of Steveston Marine & Hardware for the past 28 years, fears will happen if Onni is granted its re-zoning request.

He believes the original intent of the MMU zoning was appropriate, and once a marina — being proposed by the city — is located adjacent to the Imperial Landing site, it will attract marine-related businesses.

“Onni knew what they were getting into,” Ladha said, adding the city should factor in the amount of retail space scheduled to become available in the short term before committing to changing what types of businesses are allowed to set up shop there.

“You look at the old Gulf and Fraser Credit Union building on Third Ave., the new building going in at Bayview and Second Ave., and the coming re-development of the old church and home next door at Second Ave. and Chatham Street,” Ladha said. “Together, that represents about 20,000 to 30,000-square feet of retail space.”

He favours a closer look at the Imperial Landing site for small-sized tenants looking for live/work spaces. But the developer did not build the site to accommodate that scale, preferring to lure larger, chain retail clients.

“What we should have in their place are small business like marine architects who would love to have their offices in a place like Steveston,” he said. “The businesses should be complementary to the area. I mean, how many ice cream shops do you need in one place?

We don’t have the population to support adding more of the same.”

He also believes public amenities such as a library would provide a much needed service to the area and act as a drawing card for residents from across the city.