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Building Mission’s waterfront ‘financially viable’ for developers, planners say

Phase 1 of creating masterplan for 296-acre area complete, moving to phase 2
No major barriers have been found relating to technical studies or land-use, a good sign as the team moves into site design, according to planners. Screenshot from report to Mission council.

Phase one of creating the masterplan for re-developing Mission’s waterfront is complete, and planners have determined it’s “financially viable” for developers.

A wide array of economic, technical, infrastructure, and environmental analyses have been conducted by O2 Planning & Design to lay the foundation for the Mission Waterfront Revitalization Masterplan.

Their work was shared with city council on Aug. 16.

“I think it’s been intuitively clear to us that this is a viable project, and what your research is showing, is that it is,” said Mayor Paul Horn.

“This is the area that I think, politically, we are pushing the hardest.”

The city awarded a $1.4 million contract to the company in March to create the masterplan, which is expected to take 18 months to complete. Phase 2 will develop site concepts and land-use plans.

RELATED: Mission awards $1.4 million contract for Mission Waterfront Revitalization Masterplan

“The end of phase one has really been an effective proof of concept,” said Nicholas Dykstra, an urban designer with O2 Planning.

He said the vision is technically sound, and if timed with the right critical investments, can be realized.

“The city understood that something comprehensive was required here, that the complexities of the waterfront – especially on the east end, but also on the west end – were pronounced and integrated, but not insurmountable.”

Although re-development of the 296-acres of waterfront property is financially viable, that viability is not equally distributed across the area, according to Dykstra.

He said cohesive planning is required to unlock its full potential, otherwise certain strategic areas will get left behind.

For example, some of the designated area is upwards of four metres below flood-construction regulation levels, and a comprehensive-style dyke would have to be built, Dykstra said, adding that’s a huge challenge for a single landowner.

But no major barriers have been found relating to technical studies or land-use, a good sign as the team of designers, architects, engineers, and land economists moves into site design.

Much of the civic infrastructure is at the end of its lifecycle and needs upgrades regardless; the high-voltage powerlines across the Fraser River are anticipated to stay, but other electrical in the area would have to be placed underground; the soil profiles are fairly consistent with no broad-based concerns; and no immediate environmental issues have currently been identified, according to their report.

“From an overall systems capacity, we’re in a very good position,” Dykstra said.

Coun. Danny Plecas asked about soil contamination at the site, a remnant of the former industrial land-uses, particularly prevalent in the eastern sector.

More studies are needed to verify the risk across the entire site, but planners do not see it as a significant encumbrance for developers, said Dykstra.

They’ve created a “dot matrix” from decades of previous reports, and have highlighted areas of risk for future investigations, but he said so far, there’s nothing that would make industry uncomfortable.

“There’s no giant creosote puddle, or anything that is a major stop that’s screaming out at the end of phase one,” Dykstra said, adding certain land uses don’t require full de-contamination, and can be capped rather than excavated.

Planners think their vision of emission reductions for buildings, affordable housing and employment creation around a transit hub will provide opportunities for provincial and federal funding initiatives, especially considering the upcoming election.

Coun. Carol Hamilton asked if there was any political risk associated with trying to capture funding at higher levels of government.

Dykstra said they always take a conservative approach when it comes to external subsidies, and look at them as a “fast-forward button” rather than a built-in requirement.

“A vibrant urban center with a multi-modal transit center: Things like that are, increasingly, being deepened into the language of provincial and federal obligations,” he said. “Unless there’s a dramatic change in the course, we can expect those types of fundings to continue.”

RELATED: Mission council approves $18.9 million contract to complete sewer crossing


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