Brentwood critics playing politics: Mayor

An artist
An artist's rendering of the plaza at Willingdon and Lougheed, part of the proposed redevelopment of Brentwood mall.
— image credit: Contributed Photo

North Burnaby resident Helen Ward was leading the charge this week against the Brentwood mall redevelopment project. She claims there hasn't been enough public consultation.

The first she ever heard about the Brentwood development was Aug. 28, 2012. That's when a friend told her of a public hearing on the master plan for the project which could include towers up to 70 storeys tall, said Ward. She attended and raised concerns about the late summer timing of the hearing and the fact only residents within 30 metres of the site are notified by the city.

She said she lives about a mile away from the mall, and goes by the mall all the time to use SkyTrain and shop. "The 30-metre rule is just a joke."

Construction has recently led to changes to the area's bus connections. That's inconveniencing her and making life difficult for seniors and people with disabilities, she said.

And she held up the public process for the proposed redevelopment of Oakridge mall in Vancouver as a model for how it should be done.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said the 30-metre rule is what's required by the Local Government Act. City hall goes beyond that by advertising in local newspapers.

He's also quick to point to the recent critics' political backgrounds.

Indeed, of the eight people who signed a recent letter to council about their concerns, four have past involvement in local politics.

Ward was a 2011 candidate for school trustee for Burnaby Parents Voice. That party grew out of opposition to the school district's policy to combat homophobia.

South Burnaby resident Rick McGowan ran for council under the Burnaby Greens banner. G. Bruce Friesen was that party's campaign manager in the last election and is a former B.C. Green Party candidate. And David Field has strong ties to the BC Liberal party.

Corrigan said consultation on the Brentwood area plans started in 1996. That's when the plan was adopted following a mailout, mall displays, an open house and a public meeting. It's also when the mall site was designated for high density development.

Since then, "dozens" of rezonings, each with its own public hearing, have been done under the 1996 plan.

The public process for the Brentwood mall project started in early 2012 and included two open houses for the master plan, and open houses for each phase. Developer Shape Properties made adjustments to the initial plan based on public input.

And there were three public hearings, for the master plan, for tenant relocation and its commercial precinct. The fourth was on Tuesday for the first residential tower. At 53 storeys, 300 of the 591 units are planned for market rental housing.

"This would make this the one area that has received more public consultation than any place in Burnaby," Corrigan said.

"But those guys are all saying there's been no consultation and I'm suggesting there may be a little politics being played."

After all, the next civic election is only eight months away.

As for the Vancouver comparison, he said, the Oakridge project is a brand new concept for that area but the Brentwood concept has been around since 1996.

"I just can't imagine what more we can possibly do to make absolutely clear to everyone that we're creating density around the SkyTrain stations," he said. It's a way to accommodate growth in the city and preventĀ  urban sprawl into the Fraser Valley.

But not all the people who signed the letter have ties to local politics.

Cherie Moses said she wasn't aware of the political backgrounds of some of her co-signers. She is simply frustrated by the lack of response to the traffic concerns raised by herself and her neighbours on Graveley Street.

She was aware of the redevelopment and even attended a presentation by Shape shortly after she moved into the neighbourhood two years ago from Edmonton.

But despite following the city's process in trying to have her traffic concerns addressed, she feels as if she's hitting a brick wall. Traffic is bad enough now, she can't see it getting any better with more people moving into the area.

"I am naive about the politics, for sure I am, but I'm not naive about what I believe is right," Moses said.

Corrigan said the city is well aware of the issue.

So far the community's response to the redevelopment has been "extremely positive, it's very exciting," he said. "The one issue that's been a resident issue from the community has been traffic."

He placed much of the blame on the provincial government expanding Highway 1. More vehicles are using the freeway, so people are trying to find alternate routes to and from Vancouver through Brentwood.

"But those are not problems that arise from growth, that's the problems that arise from commuter traffic."

Brentwood residents have "valid concerns" about traffic and the city is working on solutions, but it's not an easy fix.

Corrigan said he will not suggest the Brentwood project won't create more traffic. But the hope is that most of the new residents will use the non-car options available. That ranges from transit to car-sharing vehicles provided by the developer to the project's residents.

In the long run, it's hoped commuters will decide it's not worth fighting the congestion in Brentwood and choose alternatives.

"This is not about Lougheed being an easy way to commute. It's about that area becoming transit dependent and transit friendly. if you want to get to Brentwood the best way will be by SkyTrain."

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