Highrise proposed for 'slum'

Dow Avenue property with troubled history may become site of new tower

A property on Dow Avenue in the Metrotown area that is up for rezoning has a long history of problems, according to an area resident.

Donna Polos, who was the area coordinator for Block Watch in the late '90s, said the building has a criminal history.

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"It is a slum," she said. 'It should definitely come down."

But she added a highrise isn't appropriate for the property at 6634 and 6638 Dow Avenue, which is right behind Maywood Community School.

The proposed Dow Avenue Tower, which went to a public hearing for rezoning on Sept. 20, would consist of a 33-storey highrise above three storeys of residential townhouses, with a total of 253 units.

A four-storey development would be a better fit, she added.

"The fact that it's so close to an elementary school (is the main issue)," she said of the highrise concept.

Increasing traffic along the deadend street, so close to the school, is a bad idea, Polos said.

The city should also ensure that subsidized housing is included in the plan for Dow Avenue, as many of the people in the area are immigrants with low incomes, she said.

Increasing density so dramatically in a neighbourhood that previously had a problem with criminal activity could also be an issue, she added.

"I was looking through my files on the history of the whole building," Polos said of the problems she encountered in the '90s. "I was reading for hours."

Drugs and prostitution were big problems for the street, she added.

An apartment building currently on the property, which the city's director of planning and building Basil Luksun originally thought was vacant, is still in terrible shape, according to both Polos and Luksun.

"I looked in the window to the entryway, and there was a lot of junk dumped there," Luksun said of his initial visit to the property. "There were furnishings, old newspapers; I looked around and there was no one in the building, I mean, I couldn't even get in."

But on a second visit he saw people entering the building, he said.

"I was quite surprised," said Luksun, adding his department then made a call and found out the building was still occupied. "But the building is in extremely poor condition."

The history of the property and the proximity of the school were two of the main issues brought up at the public hearing.

As a result of the public hearing, Burnaby council has asked staff to come up with a report on the effect increased traffic could have on the elementary school, Luksun said.

The city did take the school's loca-tion into consideration, according to an earlier report prepared by Luksun for council, prior to the hearing.

The development would provide an extension of Beresford Street as a statutory right-of-way to connect with the school, providing limited circulation and access for the benefit of the school, the report added.

Burnaby council will consider the rezoning for the development once the report is prepared and presented to council, Luksun said.

Mayor Derek Corrigan said the city might look at different options for handling traffic issues in the area.

"We want to assess exactly what the overall traffic strategy is," he said, adding it is important to plan for future development in the area.

Part of the problem is that traffic near schools is only busy for an hour or so a day.

"It's a tough one to work around," Corrigan said.

Kids walking to school would help avoid that issue, he added, as well as drop-off areas a little farther away.

As far as maintaining affordable housing in the area goes, Corrigan said, it is a challenge without funding and support from the provincial and federal governments.

The city wants to find developers interested in creating rental properties, but that is also difficult, he said.

The city runs affordable rental housing units itself, he pointed out, and may use density bonus funds to buy some land for housing in the future.

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