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Brentwood mall skyscraper stirs debate

Terry MacDonald and his wife Gloria have been living in the Brentwood area for more than 45 years – they’ve seen the area’s metamorphosis.

Terry MacDonald and his wife Gloria have been living in the Brentwood area for more than 45 years – they’ve seen the area’s metamorphosis. But nothing has concerned them more than the potential problems that could arise with Brentwood mall’s redevelopment.

MacDonald attended the Feb. 25 public hearing on the first of two major towers proposed for Brentwood mall. He told city council about the already existing problems of rat-runners, parking, and the traffic issues where he lives on Brentlawn Drive and how he suspects they’ll only get worse if council doesn’t do anything about it.

“With all due respect to councillors, I think various city committees have difficulty in effectively dealing with some of these issues,” he said. “I just don’t think they have all the tools they need to do the work. I think we need to work directly with city staff, not traffic and safety committees or a working group.”

Although many of the speakers at the public hearing favoured the massive redevelopment happening at Brentwood Town Centre, issues brought up by MacDonald and others regarded public safety and amenities.

Shape Properties, the owner of Brentwood mall, attended its fourth public hearing in the last year, this time for the proposed 53-storey tower atop a three-storey commercial podium at the corner of Halifax Street and Willingdon Avenue.

Burnaby resident Helen Ward, who has been active in raising her issues with the proposed changes at Brentwood mall, including the removal of its bus loop, also spoke at the hearing.

“I’m concerned about the infrastructure, government schools, parks, the legion, faith-based groups – there’s zero allotment for that,” Ward told the NOW. “I live in North Burnaby and what makes the community stronger is community things … that makes a community livable and provides really good bang for your buck.”

Ward said the 1996 Brentwood community plan called for human-scale development with a village concept, which she says has been ignored.

“Even in the Yaletown area, and False Creek, you walk along there and there’s art galleries, theatres, churches and synagogues and all this kind of stuff,” she said. “There’s nothing like that in Brentwood mall and all it’s got going for it is it’s easy to go out to the SkyTrain. That’s not much of a community.”

She also said the city has not done enough to collect public input and effectively use it.

“I didn’t feel heard,” Ward said about her past experiences in speaking to council.

However, Lou Pelletier, director of planning and building, said there had been at least four public hearings regarding different aspects of the massive Brentwood mall redevelopment over the last year. There were several other open houses and opportunities to address the Brentwood plan since 1996.

“All plans start from a policy perspective,” he said.

Pelletier noted that Brentwood was identified as an area for a high-density, commercial residential development. He said the overall concept was developed in 1996, but they can’t envision exactly what happens in the future, and that’s why each project goes back for public input through rezonings and public hearings.

The majority of speakers were in favour to the tower’s development at the hearing, as well. Many said it will update the area, address housing concerns and some likened it to a future Yaletown.

Burnaby resident Darlene Gering, former CEO and president of the Burnaby Board of Trade, said the city has to do something with its portion of the 40,000 newcomers coming to the province every year.

“We have to make accommodations for the growing population,” she said. “I know we need a variety of different housing stock, and I believe rental stock is very much needed and that is a part of this particular development.”

Gering noted that it’s been a long time since any purpose-built rental units were built in the city, as well.

“We’re very much in need of new affordable or different options for family housing,” she said. “Single-detached housing many of the people own is simply out of reach for young families.”

But when the area’s population spikes, where will they go for entertainment, a picnic or a swim?

Addressing the lack of parks, community centres and other public amenities in the immediate Brentwood area to deal with the expected incoming of 30,000 people over the next 20 years, Mayor Derek Corrigan said it’s first on council’s mind.

“I’ve got to admit, we’re behind on the Willingdon Park project and developing that one, but we’re feeling it’s a little out of the way for people in that community,” he said, about building a new community centre. “We’re struggling with whether Willingdon Park is the place, and whether or not we should look at another alternative.”

Corrigan said he wants to see a bike and pedestrian path, instead, up Willingdon Avenue where the city has been acquiring land.

“We may decide … to instead build a bike and pedestrian path … to connect the Heights with Brentwood people, then utilize Confederation Park and the pool at Confederation Park,” he said. “We think it would make a really attractive walkway because you could build mini-parks along the way.”

Corrigan also said the site the city is saving for a school, on High Street along Dawson, could be where the new community centre goes.

“The province won’t buy anything until the kids are actually there, but we’ve saved a site saying we want to put a school in the location,” he said. “Maybe that’s a place we can put a new community centre too.”

As for MacDonald, he’s not looking forward to dealing with the consequences of a bigger population and not knowing how long the city’s transportation review will take, or how it will deal with the issues.

“The traffic system on residential streets, the streets in the single-family neighbourhoods, need to be isolated from the traffic system servicing high-density developments,” he said. “Rat running through our Graveley Street and Brentlawn Drive neighbourhoods has reached annoyingly alarming levels. This is an issue that many North Burnaby neighbourhoods have been dealing with unsuccessfully for the most part.”

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