Onni Steveston waterfront rezoning — analysis

Let’s cut through the outrage to the gist of the Onni Group’s request to rezone the Steveston riverfront.

The context is the current zoning of a vacant strip bordering the south dyke. Onni is allowed 120,000 square feet of construction. Almost half can be residential, but over half must have maritime uses such as boat repairs and fish auctions.

Onni evidently found that construction for maritime uses is not worthwhile. Even if there were more demand, those uses might lower the value of residential units in the same buildings.

In the rezoning request, Onni wants a huge increase to 210,000 square feet, all residential. The 52 residential units under current zoning would multiply to 200, all in the most open and panoramic part of the site.

Under the current zoning, Onni planned six buildings of three storeys. In contrast, the rezoning request envisions just towers of ten and twelve storeys.

Naturally, the two towers would require less ground area than the six buildings in the current plan. Onni would be faced with landscaping and maintaining the rest of the site and paying property taxes on it, despite almost no chance of further revenue from it.

However, giving that extra land to the City of Richmond for park would save Onni those ongoing expenses. And the donation could reduce Onni’s income tax.

Along with the buildings’ future residents, everyone using the riverfront would benefit from that green space. The parkland transfer would be a win-win situation.

The rest of Onni’s bold request can end happily too. That will hinge on a single crucial change: limiting each building to three storeys.

If Onni retains the building footprints it has shown in its Steveston Waterfront rezoning plan, the pair of three-storey buildings could house half a dozen more residential units than the 52 in the current zoning. That bonus is on top of the other factors that would boost Onni’s revenue without raising the cost.

While checking Onni’s clever sales pitch, I found Onni to be factually honest. There’s reason for optimism.



Update, Sept. 16: Kudos to Richmond’s John Roston, writer ofThere are more than two options for Onni in the Richmond News, which I’ve just read. He’s less verbose than me, but he makes essentially the same point about what should happen if Onni is allowed to develop its riverfront property without including maritime commercial space:

They save millions without getting permission to make millions more by constructing 200 units. Onni would end up with three low-rise buildings. In return, they build a park and donate it to the city.

The “Onni Steveston” category in the Main Menu includes more on this issue.


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