August 20, 2021

Burnabyism – 3: Observations from Ann McAfee

Ann McAfee was a planner with the City of Vancouver from 1974 to 2006, notably as Co-Director of Planning with Larry Beasley during the height of Vancouverism in the 1990s.  Now a resident of Coquitlam near North Road, she has a front-row seat on Burnabyism – and has some observations to share with us:


A few thoughts from living in/near an area building on steroids.  Never did I expect to see new development typically over 50 floors – with one at 9898 Gatineau Place, other than being on transit, located on a no-amenity site proposed at 13 FSR and 82 floors.  It would be be the tallest building west of Toronto outside downtown Vancouver.


  • Firstly kudos to Burnaby and Coquitlam for implementing Transit-Oriented Development (TOD).  Other cities outside the Lower Mainland pale by comparison.


  • For perspective, by my calculations development between the freeway, up North Road, past Lougheed and Burquitlam to Como Lake Road will eventually house the population of the West End!

  • That said, compare the West End amenities with the North-Clarke Road corridor – no comparison.  Plus proposed amenities will be mainly ‘in-development’ rather than in-community.


  • Low density residential areas near Burquitlam Station are rapidly turning over to apartments and townhouses.  Makes sense, though the redevelopment process actually proceeded the Area Plan! Municipal approvals, particularly for high rises (50+ storey), don’t bear much relation to the plan. Walking distances between the Burquitlam SkyTrain Station and new development along North Road (e.g. at Foster Avenue) are stretching walking ‘accessibility’.


  • Municipalities are doing a poor job of ensuring safe walkability between SkyTrain stations and new buildings (few ‘Yaletown’ townhomes which add eyes on the street).  I had one planner say ‘But all buildings have lobbies at street level’.  I asked him whether he had tried to get help from a night stalker by banging on a lobby door.  I don’t think he understood my point.


  • Assumptions that ground floor spaces will provide accessible shopping and services are unrealistic.  I recall problems we had along some streets from False Creek to Downtown when ground floor retail was required but not occupied. No designs which provide easily walkable ‘Newport Villages’.


  • What is the new development adding in terms of housing choice and affordability?  Very little.  Most units were initially sold off-shore or as local investments – housing financialization on steroids. Unit sizes are typically one- and sometimes two-bedroom. Not designed for families.


  • Purchase prices for two-bedroom units are about the price of an older single-family home in the area.  I’ve talked with local owners looking to downsize who are astonished to find they will have to use most of the proceeds from the sale of their single-family home to purchase a two- to three-bedroom view unit. This leaves little to augment pensions or help grandchildren into the housing market.


  • Much of the new development is demolishing older three-storey affordable rental units.  Some ‘replacement’ rental units are being built using the Federal Rental Construction Housing Initiative and municipal bonuses. Advertised ‘affordable’ units exceed rents required to provide affordable (30% r-i) homes for displaced tenants.  In return, the builders are receiving support through the Rental Housing Initiative, density increases from local municipalities (which for highrise buildings typically amount to a $1 million profit per floor added), and publicly funded rapid transit which allows the developer to minimize parking further adding to profit.


  • The area provides the added challenge of coordinating Burnaby and Coquitlam policies and services.  I’m not sure how the coordination process is working today but I recall when the plan for Lougheed Mall redevelopment went to Burnaby Council (it was already in the OCP so didn’t require consultation with adjacent municipalities), Coquitlam didn’t receive an advance copy for comment.  (They wrote their reply over the weekend).)  The Burnaby report even included some Coquitlam green space/parks illustrating the ‘services’ available to new Lougheed residents.  Given the scale of redevelopment along North-Clarke Roads (Burnaby-Coquitlam boundary), clearly there are traffic and amenity issues which need to be coordinated.


All in all an interesting case study at my front door.


Check out the original Burnabyism


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  1. Ann MCAfee is right. We need two more SkyTrain Stations to serve the citizens;
    Lougheed Hwy at Bell, North Road at Cameron

  2. Given how walkability’s been stretched with these new developments as mentioned I’m disappointed in the lack of separated bike lanes to bring more riders safely to Burquitlam or Lougheed—it’s more disappointing for the former because there’s a bike parkade there, but it seems like a missed opportunity nonetheless.

  3. Anne,
    thanks for you for your thoughtful comments.

    For Coquitlam, where I had the TOD planning leadership role under the fabulous tutelage of Deb Day, Planning GM, we accomplished getting ALL the NP approvals for the TOD areas before the Evergreen Line was in the ground. Yes, these plans were amended after we left, yet, framework was set before shovels in the ground, which CoV cannot say.

    In particular, CoV has yet to accomplish a truly defining TOD design with regard to Commercial-Broadway, one of the busiest transit interchanges west of Toronto. In another Burnabyism post, I get the difficulty with the wood-frame apartments around this busy station, but how is this an excuse for doing virtually nothing for more than 30 years?

    You know very well how hard it is to get development approvals, and when they fail this sends shock waves through the development community. For example, the truly NONSENSICAL decision by CoV to turn down the BOFFO-Kettle Society (Mental Health society) at Venables & Commercial, with neighbourhood opposition over this 12 storey proposal, which is lower than some of the existing buildings in the immediately vicinity.

    Granted, Coquitlam / Burnaby TOD can be done better as NO plan is perfect, but I say move on which is a better alternative to NIMTO that appears OK for some local Councils.

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