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Green is the theme up at UniverCity

Ten years ago, only house at SFU was school president's

A decade ago, the top of Burnaby Mountain did not look like the ideal place for a large-scale sustainable community.

It was remote, misty, and quiet, save for the Simon Fraser University students who would scale the mountain each morning to attend classes and head back down again at the end of the day.

"The only house up here was the (SFU) president's residence," said Gordon Harris, president and chief executive officer of the Simon Fraser Community Trust. The trust is in charge of overseeing the UniverCity project.

He adds that the house was torn down to make way for the UniverCity development project, and SFU's current presidential residence is now in the first building of One University.

Harris points out the president's condominium - windows on the corner of one of the many new buildings that make up this community, but made distinctive by two lush red Japanese maple trees on the large balcony - as he takes the NOW on a tour of UniverCity.

The scene is very different from what might have been imagined 10 years ago - tall buildings against a sunny sky, and the skeletons of more to come alongside them.

He also brings attention to the building, currently under construction, where he intends to live.

"I believe the CEO should live in the community," he says.

Harris lists off a dizzying amount of information on the sustainability aspect of UniverCity - from sustainable building practices for each new development to stormwater management to green roofs to the neighbourhood energy utility.

It is clear that green is the theme when it comes to planning this new community.

"We're at the beginning of a watershed, so everything is affected by what we do," he says, adding that storm water leaves the mountaintop cleaner than it did before development started.

A 'leave only footprints' philosophy is necessary when planning a community for 10,000 people directly above a wilderness conservation area, and construction has taken place under the watchful eye of local environmental groups such as the Stoney Creek Environment Committee and UniverCity Neighbours for Environmental Sustainability.

Both organizations told the NOW last year that members were concerned about a lack of notice and information on new developments.

However, since ground broke on UniverCity, the development has received multiple awards and recognition for its efforts towards sustainability and affordable housing - 19 awards in total, according to the trust's count.

UniverCity hopes to be a model sustainable community, Harris says: "We'd like people to copy us."

Harris anticipates the community will reach completion in about 12 years, possibly longer if the real estate market slows down again.

Two projects are currently underway - Origin, a 75-unit project by Porte Development, combining one-, two- and three-bedroom units with two-level loft homes, and Nest, a 79-unit project by Mosaic Homes, with one and two-bedroom units.

Over the past seven years, nine developments have been built for the 3,000 residents currently living in the community.

Harris estimates there'll be space for another 1,100 to 1,200 residents within the next 36 months or so.

UniverCity did not have an easy start, with some businesses opening early in the process without many customers around, Harris says.

Now the community boasts a number of eateries, cafes, a Scotiabank, and Nester's Market.

"They've said they're very happy to be here," Harris says of the owners of the market, adding they contribute to the community, helping the new University Highlands Elementary fundraise for a playground.

A childcare centre for the community is under construction, and is expected to be one of the greenest buildings in the country, Harris says, adding it should begin accepting up to 50 children in January 2012.

The community also has a weekly summer farmers' market, a summer buskers' series, and an outdoor movie night in July, he adds. UniverCity hopes to host a community policing office in the next three to four years, as well, Harris says.

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