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Brentwood growth could help maintain quality of life: Price

Area residents are concerned that Brentwood mall
Area residents are concerned that Brentwood mall's redevelopment will only make traffic congestion worse. But SFU expert Gordon Price says those new residents are likely to choose to get around by transit and not cars.
— image credit: Wanda Chow/NewsLeader

The planned redevelopment of Brentwood mall has many area residents worried it will only bring more traffic to their already congested streets.

But the impact will likely be less than they might think, says Gordon Price, director of Simon Fraser University's City Program.

Price is a former longtime Vancouver city councillor and an expert on transportation and land use. He stressed that he hasn't read the traffic studies for the project but he's pretty clear on what some of its general impacts will be.

Shape Properties' redevelopment of the 28-acre mall site next to Brentwood SkyTrain station is proposed to include 11 residential towers, two office buildings, a public plaza and new retail space. Following a public hearing last month, Burnaby council is set to vote on rezoning for the project's first tower in the weeks ahead.

Price said the plan will have less impact on traffic than if it were for a commercial-only project. And it will have less impact than if that same amount of housing density were put into the existing community. And far less impact than if that density were located further away, such as in the Fraser Valley, which would then require people to drive through Burnaby to get where they're going.

"If you want to look at the option of accommodating growth but doing it in a way that minimizes—doesn't eliminate—but minimizes the negative impacts, then having a concentrated, mixed-use project next to serious rapid transit and some good road capacity is a pretty good option."

To put that amount of density, in low-rise apartments for instance, "you can imagine the number of houses that would have to be bulldozed," he said.

"Having a very compact community has at least this advantage: walking becomes a far more serious option for people because it's practical."

People that live in a highrise near a SkyTrain station are more likely to use transit to get around. "We've seen this occur quite dramatically in places like Vancouver and Burnaby," he said.

Another factor in why this is so: "One of the only reasons they can afford [to live there] is because they don't have a car or two cars."

For many people, buying a single-family house in North Burnaby is out of reach but if services are within walking distance, that gives people another choice of where they can live.

It's still a matter of wait-and-see on the Brentwood mall project, he said.

But "it's this type of development that actually may reduce car use. If your No. 1  priority is concern about traffic congestion or growth of cars in your neighbourhood, this may be the project to support in order to get some reduction in that. That's not out of the question."

Redeveloping parking lots, as is mainly the case for Brentwood mall, are ideal because you don't have to demolish anything, nobody needs to be evicted, land doesn't have to be assembled and comprehensive planning can be done on a larger area, he said.

Burnaby deserves real credit for its long range planning, Price said, noting its vision goes back to its apartment study back in the 1970s.

"That vision has been built out over time, it's delivering benefits, it's taking the pressure off the single-family neighbourhoods."

Not adding to the city's housing stock will only create scarcity and cause increased competition for the existing housing, both rented and owned, driving up prices even more, he added.

"If people are really anxious about growth, the irony of it is growth may well be what maintains their quality of life, their neighbourhoods and prevents people from competing with them for the existing housing stock, which they would have no choice to do if you didn't provide an option for them."

wchow@burnabynewsleader

twitter.com/WandaChow

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