A massive redevelopment proposal in Burquitlam that is expected to provide homes for 6,000 people does not include enough subsidized and below-market rental residential units, according to a prominent Tri-City housing advocate.
Sandy Burpee, the chair of the Tri-Cities Homelessness Task Group, said that while he applauds the developer’s inclusion of close to 1,000 market rental units, the 20 to 40 units of below-market rental housing are inadequate. Furthermore, he said the market rentals will be significantly more expensive than then 200 rental units that currently exist on the Cottonwood Avenue property.
“There is an elephant in the proposal,” he told council during Monday evening’s public hearing. “That is the lack of affordability of the units that are proposed.”
Concert Properties’ planned redevelopment of two sites in Burquitlam would see the construction of close to 2,600 units of housing in eight towers. As part of the proposal, the developer is offering $25 million for a new YMCA facility, of which the city will cover half of the costs, a park-and-ride lot for the Burquitlam SkyTrain station and a new community policing station.
But Burpee said the city needs to do more to increase the number of subsidized units on the sites and work with higher levels of government to ensure the area remains affordable.
He noted that both the province and the federal government have expressed interest in helping with below-market rental housing projects, creating a “perfect storm of opportunity.” Burpee added the development could set a standard for the rest of the Lower Mainland.
“It’s a marquee project,” he said. “It will be the largest rental project ever built in the Metro Vancouver region.”
Several speakers at the public hearing echoed Burpee’s comments.
Coquitlam resident Nicola Spurling, a Green Party candidate in last year’s provincial election, told councillors that while she supports the increase in rental housing stock, the city and the province need to do more to increase the supply of subsidized units on the sites.
Margo Nelson, another resident, said rents on the new units will be unaffordable for people who currently live on the Cottonwood Avenue property.
“It fails to meet the needs of the many residents with below-average incomes,” she said, adding “people are being displaced by this project.”
Brian McCauley, president and CEO of Concert Properties, told council the rental units currently on the property would be replaced at a three-to-one ratio, “which is very unusual in most municipalities.” He said the company had been working with families facing relocation as a result of construction.
The project conforms to the goals of the Burquitlam-Lougheed Neighbourhood Plan, which calls for greater housing densities around rapid transit, and would see a new recreation facility built in the underserved area, McCauley added.
“This is an exciting partnership for Concert Properties,” McCauley said. “We recognize the opportunity of working collaboratively with the city of Coquitlam as well as the Greater Vancouver YMCA.”
Park land swap
Other people who spoke at Monday’s hearing said they were concerned about the future of Burquitlam Park.
A key component of the development would see Concert build the YMCA rec centre and a 50-storey mixed-use tower on 2.1 acres of the 3.6-acre green space. The company would then give 2.55 acres of land on Cottonwood Avenue to the city to expand Cottonwood Park from 2.2 acres to 4.75 acres.
While the land swap would be a net gain for the city, several speakers told council they prefer the current park configuration.
Denis Howarth, a Burquitlam resident and former city councillor, said being so close to Burquitlam Station makes Burquitlam Park “the neighbourhood’s greatest asset.”
“What [the city] gains from Cottonwood Park is not as great because the location is not as good,” he said.
Susan Wang, another neighbourhood resident, said the park land should be left as is.
“Please keep Burquitlam Park for us,” she said. “You can rezone the commercial area, the residential area, but not the park to build a 50-storey tower. That is totally unacceptable.”
Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart said by swapping the land at Burquitlam Park, the city can expand and properly design a larger facility at Cottonwood Park.
The land at Burquitlam Park, he added, was always intended to be a recreation complex for the neighbourhood, which Stewart said has been historically underserved with city amenities.
“It was never used properly as a park,” he said of Burquitlam Park. “I suspect that was because it was never meant to be a programmed park. It was meant to be a rec centre.”
The city of Coquitlam acquired the land at Burquitlam Park in 1977 with the intention of building a recreation facility. But the project kept getting pushed back until, in 2015, the municipality signed an agreement-in-principle with the Greater Vancouver YMCA for a joint facility, which is expected to be built by 2021. The expansion of Cottonwood Park is expected to be completed next year.
Following the public hearing, council voted unanimously (Coun. Bonita Zarrillo was absent) in favour of approving Concert’s proposal.
What's happening in Burquitlam
• Project 1 — Burquitlam Park (579 Smith Ave.): The plan will see Concert Properties rezone Burquitlam Park, the subject of a recent land swap with the city, transforming it from a grass playing field and baseball park to a multi-use development with a 50-storey condominium tower — it will be the city’s tallest — with approximately 435 units and another 30-storey purpose-built rental tower with approximately 275 units. In between the two towers will be a two- to three-storey, 55,000-sq. ft. YMCA recreation facility with a pool, gym, multi-purpose space and more. The cost hasn’t been finalized but $25 million in community amenity contributions from developers will be available for the project, with the city paying 50% and the YMCA covering the rest, plus operating costs. As well, there will be a community policing station and a 50-stall park-and-ride facility, plus about 1.5 acres of community park in the area, which is close to Burquitlam Station and Bosa’s Uptown development.
• Project 2 — Whitgift Gardens (530 and 550 Cottonwood Ave): This area is currently zoned for three-storey apartments with approximately 200 units still being rented and a relocation plan being worked out for residents. The developer seeks a rezoning to build six towers — two 37-storey rental towers, with approximately 654 units; four market condominium towers at 24, 25, 43 and 48-storeys, with approximately 1,187 units; plus another approximately 132 market rental units for seniors.