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Heights may be sign of what's to come

The past year was one of change and future planning for businesses in Burnaby, as the city's town centres geared up for major shifts in the coming decade.
Peter Censorio Altezza
New Heights: Peter Censorio developed the new Altezza building on Hastings Street, a mixed-use property on Hastings Street. The building is an example of the changing face of the neighbourhood – and the city itself.

The past year was one of change and future planning for businesses in Burnaby, as the city's town centres geared up for major shifts in the coming decade.

While the focus in Brentwood, Lougheed, Edmonds and Metrotown was on future developments, one neighbourhood has seen a great deal of change already – Burnaby Heights.

The city changed a zoning bylaw in the Heights about five years ago to allow for some mixed residential and commercial developments, and that shift has started to change the face of the neighbourhood.

"Even so, it's going to take another five to 10 years to really see it blossom into where there's no gaps," Isabel Kolic, executive director for the Heights Merchants Association, told the NOW.

A mixed-use development at Madison Avenue and Hastings Street is now under construction, and there are plans for a mixed-use development across from Happy Honda in the eastern end of the Heights.

But already, the changes can be seen with buildings such as the Tramonto at 4365 Hastings Street and the Altezza building at 4710 Hastings Street.

There is a healthy mix of nationally recognized brand name companies, specialty shop and other small businesses in the area now, according to Kolic.

"I think all the business types have to play together in a sort of economic development symphony," she said.

However, the changes to the neighbourhood have also meant some losses, such as plans for a mixed-use development where the Dolphin Theatre now stands, she pointed out.

“Although we're happy to see revitalization on the Heights, we also lament the loss of a local cultural anchor," Kolic said in a follow-up email. "Something like a theatre is a significant part of a strong economic and social mix. It complements and strengthens the other businesses and creates a more walkable local neighbourhood."

This past year brought another type of shift to the neighbourhood - hope for economic recovery after the 2008/2009 recession.

"Businesses have been telling me as of mid-year that it has stopped getting worse," Kolic said. "And I heard that quite a bit. Restaurants in particular have stabilized - they were really suffering in 2012, and 2013 was a little bit easier."

In the coming year, the association will be looking at the official community plan for the neighbourhood, which was developed in the early '90s.

"That was a quarter-of-a-century ago, and Burnaby's become a lot more urban since then," she said, "and people are moving to the Heights from many other urban areas of the Lower Mainland. They come to the Heights because they love that urban village environment."

The association also plans to return to the issue of the HOV lane along Hastings Street, she said.

"We'll continue to advocate for the removal of the HOV lane and restore a quieter and more friendly walking environment of the Heights," she said.

As the Heights goes through this transition phase, it may be a sign of what's to come in the city's four town centres.

Edmonds has its new community centre, and plans are moving forward for a major mixed-use development at the site of the current Value Village, which is intended to be a community hub.

Construction is underway at Brentwood Town Centre and at Station Square in Metrotown, with plans to make the centres mixed-use developments as well, creating more walkable community space instead of the walled-in malls of the '80s and '90s.

And Shape Properties, which owns Lougheed Town Centre as well as Brentwood, is in the preliminary planning stages for Lougheed as well, with an ambitious plan to create the "public heart" of the community with a mixed-use development on the site.

While the four centres are in the beginning stages of these plans, the recent changes in the Heights offer a smaller-scale glimpse of how they may play out.