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21-storey Burnaby tower project 'too much' for the site: mayor

The development, an eight-minute walk from Edmonds SkyTrain station, drew criticism for its size and location in the midst of townhomes and single-family residences.

A 21-storey highrise planned for Burnaby’s Edmonds town centre came under fire at council this month.

The mayor and two councillors expressed concerns the development is too tall for the area and would change the character of the neighbourhood of primarily townhomes and single-family residences.

The tower at 7465 Griffiths Dr. would incorporate 108 strata condos and 61 rental units. Currently on the site is a two-storey industrial building built in 1967.

Mayor: ‘I think we can do better’

Independent Mayor Mike Hurley said the development is “too much density for this site.”

“I think we can do much better with a six-storey wood-frame construction there, or if we must, do a 10-to-12-storey, much more environmentally friendly, mass-timbre structure,” he said at council.

He said the development site is “completely surrounded” by townhomes and single-family residences.

“It really changes the character of that street and that neighbourhood, and you know, the traffic we’ve got on Griffiths – it’s a very dangerous area right now, a lot of accidents,” the mayor said.

But Burnaby Citizens Association (BCA) Coun. Pietro Calendino disagreed.

“I think it would be a mistake not to go ahead with this,” Calendino said.

He said the city has a plan to create more housing and said this development is in accordance with the city’s policies.

He noted the development is only a few minutes away from Edmonds SkyTrain station (it’s an eight-minute walk, according to Google Maps).

“Given the cost of construction these days, even if a six-storey might fit there, I believe that would be wasting space and land.”

More than 180 parking stalls are included in the project, along with three car wash stalls, and 372 spaces for bicycles.

As part of Burnaby’s rental use zoning policy, 16 of the rental units would be rented at 20 per cent below the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.’s median rates for southeast Burnaby, which is currently $1,264. The developer would rent 22 units at market rates and 23 at the CMHC market median.

Councillor worries about density transfer

The developers, Square Nine Developments Inc., were allowed to proceed with the 21-storey height (63.91 metres or 209.67 feet tall) because they had originally planned to purchase an adjacent portion of land beside the development site, a “vacant (and) redundant” right-of-way owned by the city.

With a larger site area, developers can build the same number of units (density) over a shorter building as a smaller site with a taller building.

The developers later decided not to acquire that 14,194 square-foot piece of land but were still allowed to purchase the density of that plot and include it on the land being developed.

BCA Coun. Sav Dhaliwal, while supporting the project, said he had concerns about density transfer, as the right-of-way was never intended to be used in this way.

“That area has added almost one-third of the density to that building, and that was one of the points raised by the neighbours,” Dhaliwal said, adding such a scenario should be flagged earlier in the development process so the project doesn’t get too far in the process only to be turned back by council.

In the future, he suggested the planning and development committee be alerted to similar cases and be asked if the project is suitable to continue.

Burnaby’s density transfer policy states, “The intent of density transfer is not to sell density,” and generally requires developers to own both sites where density is transferred.

Staff to look into traffic, creek concerns

BCA Coun. Daniel Tetrault asked staff to look into traffic concerns raised by residents at the public hearing, as the development has only one street entrance for vehicles on Prenter Street, but offers no left turn on the way out.

Staff said at the public hearing they wouldn’t recommend or allow entrance to the site off Griffiths Drive, as the road is a major collector, but said they would look at altering specifics as the project progresses.

BCA Coun. Alison Gu asked whether a nearby creek would be affected. Staff said there are measures in place to maintain stormwater and sediment control.

The development passed its second reading, with Hurley, Green Party Coun. Joe Keithley and One Burnaby Coun. Richard Lee opposed. It will come to council at least twice more before final approval.