The rezoning approved unanimously by Chilliwack council Tuesday night smooths the way for massive redevelopment of 21 lots in the city’s downtown core.
“It was a historic moment,” said Mayor Sharon Gaetz after the meeting.
Development teams now have until Jan. 17, 2018 to submit their bids to Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation (CEPCO) in the Request-for-Proposals (RFP) process to undertake the Five Corners redevelopment project.
City councillor Sam Waddington had to recuse himself from the table while the rezoning of the properties were discussed since he lives in one of the subject buildings.
Resident Laura Reid, member of Heritage Chilliwack Society, spoke at the hearing about the potential loss of heritage buildings to the wrecking ball, as well as the permanent loss of affordable housing spaces.
But she made a point of thanking CEPCO for “encouraging the reuse and possible retention of existing buildings” in the design, and for expecting the form and character of the new development to complement “Chilliwack’s historic downtown character.”
“A sign of a healthy community is one that preserves its heritage and history and ensures any new development reflects these values,” Reid said.
Resident Tom Balakshin was the only other person to address council at the rezoning hearing. He also suggested the facades of the heritage buildings be retained in the new development.
The RFP document mentions that CEPCO reps “encourage proponents to consider, as an option for the partners, the possible retention of existing buildings and/or building facades of historical significance in the design of their development, if it can be achieved without compromising the overall viability of the project.”
The plan for a mixed-use development that would incorporate both residential and commercial space, became focused on the area east of Five Corners, bounded by Young, Yale and Princess. The site covers almost an entire city block.
Coun. Sue Attrill pointed out that in all of her 10 years on council the topic of downtown revitalization has been a constant.
“This is one I hope and pray will go forward to find a great developer who will build something beautiful,” Attrill said. “I’m very excited and I can’t wait to see what happens.”
She also noted that the RFP does not preclude using, or saving the building facades, and in fact makes it an option to save them to “look after the heritage aspect of our downtown.”
“I think that suggestion came from Coun. Lum,” Attrill said.
Coun. Chris Kloot stressed that more “eyes and ears” are “essential for downtown to succeed, and the rezoning goes a long way toward achieving that.
“Now I remain hopeful a unique and vibrant and creative proposal will come forward very soon for our consideration.”
Coun. Jason Lum said he heard wisdom in the comments from the public at the hearing, and it may have been lost that there is already a vibrant community that lives and calls downtown home.
“As this process has evolved, council has become more and more aware and alive to that, and encourage some of those voices to be a part of the redevelopment process,” said Lum.
He said (downtown redevelopment” is something that this council, and past councils will be judged on going into the future, “on how well we handled this,” Lum said.
“While the outcome in our own minds might look a little bit different, it was our intent to build something we can all be proud of. So I am looking forward to this process going forward.”
Mayor Gaetz thanked the speakers, and noted that it has been a very long process, and thought there might have been more people showing up that night to the hearing.
“This is probably one of the most transformative things to happen in our downtown,” Gaetz said.
Ongoing efforts by city council to kickstart downtown revitalization date back to 2010 when the vision to assemble properties and prepare for redevelopment of the almost four-acre site began to take shape, said Mayor Gaetz.
She addressed the suggestion from the floor that exsiting affordable housing could be taken away with the redevelopment.
“Staff have been working very hard with the landlords to make sure no one is displaced,” the mayor added.
There is already solid interest in the project percolating through the development community across the Lower Mainland, with more than 40 developers taking a tour hosted by CEPCO reps this summer, and dozens of RFP packages being sent out to various parties.
“It’s an exciting moment, so I think it’s time everyone can take a breath and think it is actually going to happen,” Gaetz said. “And if by Jan. 17 we don’t receive any packages, I will be gobsmacked. We do have contingency in place, and if we don’t like what is presented to us, we have an opportunity to reshape that again.”
Whatever goes in at Five Corner, will ultimately still be there for “our children and grandchildren, so it has to be good,” she concluded.
The text amendment and rezoning bylaws were passed unanimously by council following the public hearing.