Business booms along Burnaby’s transit corridors

Evan Duggan, Apr. 29, 2014, (THE VANCOUVER SUN) — In the first few months of this year the City of Burnaby has seen a 20-per-cent increase in new business licences compared to the same period in 2013, with a large portion of the new businesses emerging at town centres and transit hubs, according to the city’s licensing department.

Between 2012 and 2013, the number of new licences (including businesses with a change in ownership or a name change) increased by 12 per cent.

The accelerated rate of increase so far this year comes as no surprise to Burnaby city councillor Colleen Jordan, who says business owners, residents and developers are seeing decades worth of planning for high-density developments at transit nodes along the Expo and Millennium lines bearing fruit, without disrupting existing single-family neighbourhoods.

Developments such as the Station Square mixed-use tower project, which is now under Phase 2 construction at Metrotown, were first envisaged in the 1980s as the Expo Line took shape through Burnaby and planners anticipated the opportunity to draw businesses and residents to the stations along the route, Jordan said.

She said the city, with community input, eventually developed community plans in the mid 1990s to help to mould town centres such as Metrotown, Brentwood, Lougheed and Edmonds with scant backlash from residents.

“What we said at that time was that we would concentrate the high density and development in those town centres and we will leave your single-family neighbourhoods alone,” said Jordan, a longtime resident of Burnaby who was first elected to council in 2002.

“We had a lot of community input [back in the 1990s],” she said. “The long-standing residents in those areas basically had a pretty good understanding of what the plan was.”

Station Square is a 12-acre master-planned community by Beedie Living and Anthem Properties Group attached to the Metrotown SkyTrain station and bus loop. When completed, it will have five residential towers with 1,800 condos and 400,000 square feet of office space and retail, including an Overwaitea PriceSmart, a TD Canada Trust and a Caffé Artigiano. The tallest building of the five will rise to 48 storeys and will go on sale in May.

Anthem Properties CEO Eric Carlson said Burnaby has been a good partner and is earning the economic rewards from projects like Station Square without displacing single-family neighbourhoods. “They get good development fees from these big developments, they get community amenity contributions and that gives them cash to build parks and city infrastructure,” he said.

Burnaby’s approach to increasing mixed-use density at earmarked parts of the city has been quite coherent, Carlson said.

“You take the SkyTrain, the original regional town centre plan, and the sort of new cultural awareness of the benefits of high density living and it has really helped [in places such as] Metrotown.”

Part of Burnaby’s success at densification and drawing businesses to its transit hubs came about because many of the stations were not surrounded by single-family neighbourhoods, said Bob Ransford, an urban development specialist at Counterpoint Communications.

Compared to Vancouver, which is full of mature single-family neighbourhoods outside of the downtown core, Burnaby was blessed with space along the transit routes to erect mixed-use towers without causing much disruption, he said.

But Burnaby planners also recognized early on that there was opportunity to develop density nodes along those transit lines, he said. “Burnaby actually took the initiative to plan those developments and put the neighbourhood plans in place to allow that to happen.”

Ransford said Station Square is well situated at one the biggest transit hubs in Metro Vancouver and will establish a residential and business community where there wasn’t one before.

“It was a big-box retail centre with huge parking lots,” he said. “There wasn’t anybody living there and everybody who wanted to get there, drove there.”

Jordan added that commercial growth in Burnaby is also evident from the growing number of overall building permits over the last couple of years. “It was a record year last year and we’re ahead of that at this point of time, this year,” she said.

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