Onni Group's waterfront development, Imperial Landing, was completed in late summer of 2013 and includes six new low rise buildings that feature rental apartments above approximately 60, 000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor.
But the land the buildings sit on is zoned maritime mixed use by the City of Richmond.
"It's basically industrial use," says City of Richmond councillor Harold Steves, noting the zoning has been in place for 15 years.
Steves says he warned Onni that it might not be feasible for apartments to be built on top of maritime mixed use, but says the company ignored the advice.
"They built it and then said they don't want maritime mixed use. They said the buildings are all built and now we want it rezoned for a fully commercial development " said Steves.
Big economic impact on Richmond
Onni is currently attempting to have the land rezoned.
No one from the company responded to CBC's requests for an interview, but an information website related to the company's rezoning bid says it wants to create "a more complete community that reflects the values of our neighbours and welcomes residents and visitors to Imperial Landing and the Steveston area."
The vacancy has a big economic impact according to land use consultant and Steveston resident Bob Ransford.
"I calculated that the direct economic impact [Richmond is] losing is about $500,000 a month, " Ransford told the CBC.
"That economic loss is huge for Steveston because it will have to be made somewhere else. Secondly, I think it's a huge loss in the character of the place."
But small business owners like Peter Tong disagree with Ransford.
Small businesses worried
Tong, a member of the Steveston Merchants Association, owns the Pharmasave just a block away from the development. He told CBC that if the development is rezoned for retail space, he's worried about how long his own business can last.
"It puts into doubt the future of some of these small businesses," he said.
"A lot of us are mom and pop shops, myself included. We don't make lots of money, but we're trying to make our own wage and when you take a giant supermarket and you put it in this location, it will take away so much from the existing businesses' bottom line."
Ransford says while he understands Tong's concern, the fear is unfounded.
"It's never turned out to be true," he says "When you bring in more retail, you bring in more people, and those people shop at all the shops."
As for how long the space could sit empty, Steves says the dispute remains at an impasse.
"It's up to Onni now to see if they're prepared to negotiate, and if they aren't, then it will sit empty a little while longer."