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Metrotown rising as Burnaby’s ‘true downtown’

For the first time in 40 years, the City of Burnaby is working to amend its development plan for Metrotown in a move that city staff and councillors say would transform the neighbourhood into the city’s downtown core.

A proposal introduced April 21 to Burnaby’s Planning and Development Committee has called for council to revamp Metrotown to “create a true downtown for Burnaby” and “enable the highest order of land use and development” in the area.

The committee has referred the plan back to city staff in order to expand the community engagement part of it, city councillor and committee member Colleen Jordan said last week.

Jordan said she supports the “nuts and bolts” of the proposal that was introduced to the committee by Lou Pelletier, the city’s planning and building director.

“The original plan was made in 1977 — 40 years ago,” she said. “So we need to start looking at the next 40 years.”

Metrotown — located generally within the boundaries of Central Park, Royal Oak Avenue, Imperial Street and Boundary Road — is currently home to about 25,000 residents. With the city expecting to welcome another 125,000 people during the next 25 years, many of those would end up in Metrotown, Pelletier said in the report.

The plan calls for upzoning of Metrotown to allow for many more mixed-use office and residential towers to be concentrated along Kingsway, Central Boulevard, Beresford Street and Grange Street. More townhomes would also be built at street level, mostly along Kingsway, Central Avenue and Nelson Street.

The new regulations would make it easier for developers to build high-density projects at prominent intersections and corner lots, while protecting natural features, open spaces and views.

Eventually, “an interesting skyline” would emerge, Pelletier’s report said.

Jordan said that in 1977, eight years before the Expo Line went in, Kingsway was zoned predominantly for commercial activity.

“In 1977, we were looking at a mall, and strip malls — and things have changed dramatically since then,” she said.

“People want to live, work and play in the same neighbourhood,” she said.“We want to take the elevator downstairs and have all the conveniences. We want to have office opportunities, commercial opportunities and be two blocks from the SkyTrain. Kingsway has been car oriented since it was first built.”

Jordan said giving Metrotown the distinction of Burnaby’s downtown core is an important move.

Metrotown is already taking shape as Burnaby’s downtown core, said Eric Carlson, CEO of Anthem Properties, the developer behind Station Square — a five-hectare master-planned community with Beedie Living near the Metrotown SkyTrain station and bus loop. When all phases are completed, it will have five residential towers between 35-57 storeys, with 1,800 condos and 400,000 square feet of office space and retail.

Now in phase two of three stages, Station Square is already home to a Rexall, Bed Bath Beyond, Shoe Co., and Dollarama — among several other retailers.

“Whether you call [Metrotown] the downtown of Burnaby or not, it’s certainly becoming the downtown,” Carlson said last week. “You look at the transportation patterns and population densities and the growth rates of population — this is definitely an epicentre of that movement.”

He said higher density buildings have to be part of the equation.

“Density is what creates the revenue … to help create amenities,” Carlson said, adding that in exchange for more density from the city, developers provide spaces for amenities like plazas and art installations for a more pedestrian friendly atmosphere.

He said additional residents are needed to make more stores, services and restaurants viable. Larger residential buildings are also an efficient use of land “and a great way to support the transit system.”

Future projects similar to Station Square would provide the right mix of residents, office space and retail, he said.

“At the top of the podium maybe you have some office space where you have professional firms, doctors and lawyers, et cetera,” he said. “It won’t be necessarily a massive corporate head office, but [it would be] commerce and jobs.”

Metrotown also makes geographic sense as Burnaby’s downtown core when compared to other town centres like Brentwood, which Carlson said is located a bit too far north. “Brentwood is on the other side of Highway 1,” he said. “It makes sense if you want to designate Metrotown as downtown.”

The plan is slated for public consultation over the summer, with a draft expected to be introduced in the fall following public feedback. In his report, Pelletier suggested adoption of the plan by the end of this year.