Keeping A&W drive-thru not likely if mixed-use development in Port Moody wants to advance

Council unanimously agreed if a developer wants to redevelop Port Moody’s tiny A&W, the drive-thru is likely toast.

Roger Milad, the owner of the miniature A&W location, had his application for a six-storey mixed-use building on the property reviewed by city council for early input on Sept. 5.

While there were many aspects council found promising, the retention of the drive-thru was a no-go.

“I just really think we’re past the point of living in a time where drive-thrus cut through a building for fast food,” said Coun. Kyla Knowles. “For me, it’s going to be a major sticking point.”

The developer is seeking to rezone the nearly 19,000-square foot site located on the 2500-block of St. Johns Street into a comprehensive development site.

A total of 7,000 sq. ft. of commercial retail space would be created on the ground floor, along with 12,000 sq. ft. of office space on the second floor.

The upper storeys would include 60 residential units including 52 would be one-bedroom units and eight two-bedroom units.

While the application does not meet the city’s 30 percent requirement for family-friendly sized units, 25 percent of the units are offered as market rentals, and another 25 percent as below-market rentals.

Port Moody’s development committees, the land use committee and the advisory design panel, both did not recommend approving rezoning, largely because of the drive-thru.

Similarly, staff said the current zoning bylaw does not allow drive-thrus in new developments, with all existing locations in the city having been grandfathered in.

Furthermore, staff said the configuration of the building’s access points could create additional conflict points for traffic, and the queuing lane could spill out onto Mary Street.

“That would not be supported by staff,” said Wesley Woo, Port Moody’ development planner. “Especially in this area, that’s supposed to be more pedestrian friendly and walkable.”

A consultant with CityState Consulting, Carolyn Thompson, said the rental ratios, commercial space and amount of amenities are only possible with the inclusion of the drive-thru.

“Very few developers can offer 25 percent below-market rentals with an entire floor dedicated office space,” Thompson said.

She added the developer has made strides to align with the city’s official community plan: eight storeys have been reduced to six, amenities have increased to four times the city’s requirement, and its job’s ratio triple the city’s targets.

A total of 121 new jobs could potentially be created from the project, according to Thompson.

She said the development is centred on job creation, and they are proposing a young entrepreneurs-first policy for tenants along with ongoing business mentorship.

“This is why this particular application does not align with Port Moody’s (family friendly) policy,” Thompson said. “This generation is forced into a gig economy. We propose to use the sharing economy to help young entrepreneurs compete. We often hear live-work projects are good concepts but in the wrong locations. We think this is the right location. It’s a good bet.”

Other concerns listed by staff include only 63 parking spaces being offered (a 43 percent reduction), lack of natural light hampering the livability of some units, and the parkade ramp design.

Many on council were not as concerned with the family friendly policy or parking reductions, given other affordability and job creation aspects.

Coun. Amy Lubik said these benefits outweigh the family friendly housing requirements, adding the city needs to find a balance on their strict guidelines for innovative projects.

Mayor Meghan Lahti said she was open to the parking reduction, and the unit mix made sense for the “innovative and interesting” project.

However, she said the city needs to recognize that parking reductions could create further parking pressure in the neighbourhood.

“It would be a lovely building to have on St. John Street, if we can sort of work through some of those bigger issues around the drive-thru,” Lahti said.

Coun. Diana Dilworth said the application is moving in the right direction, “but there is going to have to be some perhaps big changes made.”

Although she said she liked the esthetic of the building, and other benefits mentioned above, the trade-offs for the drive-thru are hard to overcome.

“I really liked this A&W, I will admit I love the convenience of the drive thru. But I also recognize the trade off in terms of climate action,” Dilworth said.

Knowles referenced the amount of comments made during the project’s public engagement work which specifically addressed the drive-thru.

She said there is significant concern over the smell that comes with living above a fast food restaurant. “It just kind of seeps into everything,” Knowles said.

Patrick Penner, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Tri-Cities Dispatch