Burnaby out paces Vancouver in tower development.
Burnaby is putting up a forest of highrise residential towers over the next 25 years, far outstripping anything contemplated by Vancouver.
Targeting land around rapid transit nodes and four malls — Metrotown, Brentwood, Lougheed and Edmonds, developers have at least 106 highrise residential buildings with more than 30,000 units proposed or under construction. Of those, 47 are 40 storeys or more in height, according to data collected by a real estate expert with Colliers International. By comparison, there are 68 highrises under development in Vancouver, of which only 13 are 40 storeys or taller.
The scale of the development is dramatically reshaping Burnaby, which has long been content to be a bedroom community to Vancouver and its job-centric downtown core. Burnaby’s town centres developed as local or regional malls surrounded by low-density rental housing or single-family neighbourhoods, but they are now transforming into dense urban communities with towers rivalling those in Vancouver.
Around Brentwood and Gilmore no less than 46 towers, ranging from 25 to 65 storeys, are planned. And at Lougheed Town Centre, on the eastern edge bordering Coquitlam, at least 23 towers up to 65 storeys are planned around the soon-to-be finished Evergreen SkyTrain line. The expansive former Dairyland and Safeway industrial complex near Edmonds will have 19 towers up to 44 storeys tall.
But this pace of development also highlights a disparity between how developers are treated in Burnaby and Vancouver and what the cities expect from them. Many proponents of Burnaby’s biggest projects are developers like Shape Properties, Concord Pacific, Onni, Ledingham McAllister, Polygon, Beedie Industrial and Anthem Properties.
David Taylor, a specialist with Colliers International, said Vancouver’s restrictive building policies and the lack of developable land are largely why developers now target Burnaby with such dramatic results.
“In Vancouver, outside of downtown there are effectively less than a handful of projects where you can do towers. You are not going to find a site in Vancouver to build a highrise, so where are you going to build it? You are going to find it in Burnaby or Coquitlam,” he said.
Taylor pointed to problems the Kettle Society is having building a relatively simple 12-storey building at Venables and Commercial Drive and the recent backlash in Grandview-Woodland over the Vancouver planning department’s plans for towers at Commercial and Broadway.
“You’ve got neighbourhoods that don’t want any development. If you could build towers anywhere in Vancouver, you would see hundreds of them. There is that much demand for that. But the reality is that to build a 40-plus storey tower in the city of Vancouver, even downtown, is extremely difficult.”
Anne McMullin, the CEO of the Urban Development Institute, said Burnaby’s planned development closely aligns with its regional growth strategy. What makes the difference, she said, is that a lot of the land being redeveloped is non-controversial and doesn’t pit neighbourhoods against the developers.
“It’s a lot easier than in Vancouver. These are malls or industrial areas like the Safeway lands,” she said. “It is a lot less controversial and it involves higher densities around transit hubs.”