A major new district plan to further densify a large area in and around Metropolis at Metrotown was unanimously approved by Burnaby City Council last week, and it could lead to the demolition and redevelopment of Metro Vancouver’s largest shopping centre.
Through the redevelopment of existing low-rise residential buildings and existing single-family homes into towers, the Metrotown Downtown Plan is designed to add tens of thousands of new residents to the 3.1-sq-km area bounded by Bond Street and Dover Street to the north, Royal Oak Avenue to the east, Imperial Street to the south, and Boundary Road to the west.
The plan is also accompanied with public realm improvements that include new public spaces and making major streets in the district more vibrant, pedestrian friendly, and “human scale”.
The district already has a Regional City Centre (RCC) designation, and with its almost 28,000 residents – living in over 12,000 units – it is the most populated RCC in the region outside of downtown Vancouver.
But with 125,000 people expected to move into Burnaby by 2041, pushing the total population to 345,000, the municipal government says it needs to create new dense, strategic living spaces to accommodate the growth. The businesses in this area alone also accounts for 17% or 24,000 of Burnaby’s jobs.
Major urban centres served by SkyTrain like Brentwood, Lougheed, and especially Metrotown are being designed to handle the growth in the number of residents and jobs.
The approved plan shows a new street network bisecting through Metropolis at Metrotown and identifies the indoor shopping centre as a potential redevelopment site.
It is all part of the City’s long-term vision to break up the large city block that supports the suburban shopping centre into a “finer grained”, more grid-like street and smaller city block pattern that allows for better connectivity.
“The intent is to transform the more suburban shopping areas into vibrant, pedestrian and transit-oriented, mixed-use developments with diverse housing, employment, service, and recreation opportunities,” reads the City’s plan.
This master plan would move the retail and businesses housed inside the existing mall onto a new network of streets lined with commercial frontage, essentially replicating a mixed-use residential and commercial model that was first introduced in the area with Station Square redevelopment next door.
Much of this new streetfront retail will be located on the east-west extension of Kingsborough Street through the site.
“High-rise buildings are to be set back from the street with pedestrian scaled podiums fronting the street. The public realm is to be framed by street trees, pedestrian lighting, and street furniture,” reads the plan.
“The intent of this shopping street is not to compete with Kingsway or Central Boulevard, but for Kingsborough to have a finely grained commercial focus – a dynamic commercial shopping street with active retail storefronts, street side cafes, wide promenade-like sidewalks, complete with generous street furniture and opportunities for public art.”
But this redevelopment vision is highly preliminary as the City notes a separate, rigorous master plan process for the shopping centre property, in addition to site specific rezoning applications, will likely be required. However, this will not happen anytime soon: It is unlikely the redevelopment will be realized for many years, possibly decades.
Two landlords will be involved in the future master plan process as the shopping centre has two owners who own separate portions of the property.
Montreal-based commercial real estate company Ivanhoe Cambridge owns most of the mall property while local developer Concord Pacific purchased the northeastern corner of the site fronting Kingsway and Nelson Avenue from Sears Canada in 2013.
The portion that Concord Pacific owns includes the mall building wing that houses the Sears department store and land area currently occupied by mall parking lots.
In addition to a new street network, a major new City-owned park is envisioned for the mall when it is redeveloped.
“The intended character of this new open space is to be highly urban, but also offer a green ‘oasis’ in the Downtown,” reads the plan. “Surrounded by public roads and adjacent to high density mixed-use development with highly active commercial frontages, this new open space is to have excellent exposure and is intended to accommodate a diverse population.”
There are currently over 450 shops and services at Metropolis at Metrotown, including major anchor stores and businesses like Hudson’s Bay, Toys ‘R Us, Superstore, Chapters, T & T Supermarket, and Cineplex’s Silver City theatres.
The municipal government’s Metrotown Downtown Plan process drew immense local opposition, and during City Council meetings last month it escalated to protests requiring police intervention.
However, opponents of the plan were not critical of the potential mall redevelopment but rather the potential impact from the demolition and redevelopment of low-rise buildings surrounding the shopping centre.
Neighbourhood activists claim the plan will lead to tenant evictions from thousands of existing affordable units in low-rise residential buildings.