Residents in Richmond, B.C., got their opportunity Monday to speak on a proposed rezoning of a prime piece of waterfront that has been debated in the city for years.

In 2012, Onni Group's waterfront development, Imperial Landing, was constructed. It includes six low-rise buildings that feature rental apartments atop approximately 60,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor.

Located along land that used to be part of the community's thriving fishing industry, the buildings were zoned for maritime use — in an attempt to preserve the historic character of the area — but shortly after they opened, Onni asked to rezone the land to allow different uses.

The buildings have sat empty since, much to the annoyance of certain councillors.  

"We're having the same trouble other cities are having, which is Onni says one thing during the development process, and then does another thing years later," said Coun. Carol Day.

"The only reason those buildings are empty is because they have been asking for twice the rent of the going rate. This is part of the plan all along, to attempt to keep the space empty so they could come and ask for hotels and dollar stores on the most important land on the coast of North America."

Imperial Landing 5 (Steveston)

The development occupies a large piece of Steveston's waterfront. (Margaret Gallagher)

Onni's proposal is to convert the buildings into a mix of hotel units, retail and office space. 

A sticking point has been how much Onni would benefit from the zoning changes — and how much of that economic windfall would be redirected to the city. 

The current proposal has Onni paying $2.4 million, 50 per cent of the agreed upon economic benefit they would receive.

Longtime Coun. Harold Steeves said that's not enough.

"I think that they're really short-changing us. They should have to do what every developer has to do. Give us amenities worth the extra [million], or give us the cash," he said. 

"We anticipated that we'd have 3.5 acres of Granville Island type of businesses on that site." 

Following the public hearing Monday, council voted 5-3 to defer the decision until the Nov. 20 meeting, to allow further negotiations with Onni regarding the amount of money being contributed.

With files from Meera Bains