The end may finally be in sight for Chilliwack’s downtown albatross.
Chilliwack city council approved a development variance permit for a 183-unit apartment complex on the old Safeway site that makes up the city block bordered by Main Street, Kipp Avenue, Mary Street and Princess Avenue.
The three-acre parcel of prime downtown real estate has been vacant for 14 years since the Safeway moved to the location on Hodgins, which itself changed to FreshCo this past year.
Plans for redevelopment of the long-empty site began in 2016 with its purchase by the Surrey-based real estate development company Mann Group.
Before that, the municipality had proactively rezoned the properties from commercial to high-density multi-family residential and commercial. The Mann Group created plans for the property, but in 2018 as the company sought new rezoning, and a day before third reading of that rezoning, the developer’s consultant was informed city council would defeat the application.
Based on that, Mann officials deferred third reading until the municipal elections were over in October 2018. City council then decided to expropriate the properties for “public parking and health services,” a move that landed the city in court, facing a lawsuit from the Mann Group.
A city spokesperson explained this week that the city and the Fraser Valley Regional Health District (FVRHD) later decided to withdraw the expropriation and settle out of court “given the uncertainty over the eventual purchase cost.”
“Although we had hoped to acquire land for health services and parking, it became evident that the prudent decision was to walk away and let the FVRHD continue their search for an appropriate property for health services.”
The city was compensated with $125,000 as per the Expropriation Act.
|Rendering of a proposed 183-unit apartment project on the old Safeway site downtown Chilliwack as presented to city council on May 19, 2020. (City of Chilliwack)|
Fast forward to today, a new developer has a project planned for the site, and they were at council to ask for three variances: to reduce setback requirements; increase lot coverage for the parkade from 50 per cent to 100 per cent; and to reduce the number of off-street parking spaces from the required 1.5 spaces per unit to 1.25 per unit.
“I cannot stress enough that whatever gets built here will have to be a real masterpiece,” Coun. Chris Kloot said at the May 19 meeting. “It will be seen as a cornerstone for the area.
“That city block is not doing anyone any favours sitting there empty.”
Kloot added that he would have liked to see a taller building proposed along with some smaller units to add affordability.
Of main concern to council, including Coun. Jason Lum and Mayor Ken Popove, was the requested reduction in parking.
Kloot pointed out that the developer could have solved most of the parking variance issue if he had proposed some units under 50 square metres, which only need .75 parking spots per unit.
In the end, city council approved the first two variances but did not approve the parking variance, which will have to be addressed at a later date.
Back when the closure of the Safeway was announced in March 2006, city hall was hopeful about the possibilities for redevelopment of the site.
Then councillor Chuck Stam suggested the city was hoping for a high-rise residential development with commercial space on the ground floor, and professional office space above.
“You can imagine what that would do to the downtown,” Stam said in 2006.
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