August 31, 2012

Coming soon to a suburb near you: highrise development

Highrise towers are no longer solely a downtown Vancouver phenomenon.

Developers are building and proposing highrise buildings along transit corridors in Burnaby and Surrey.

In fact, the highest building in B.C. could some day be in Burnaby if an ambitious plan by Shape Properties at Brentwood Town Centre is approved.

Burnaby council is considering a conceptual master plan by Shape Properties, owner of Brentwood Town Centre, to redevelop the site with an 11.5-hectare project that includes two residential towers of 45 to 70 storeys over the next five years, with as many as nine more towers ranging from 20 to 55 storeys over the next 20 to 30 years. Two 30-40 storey office towers are also in the plan. Shape Properties hopes to break ground in late 2013.

A number of highrise developments are at various stages of development across Metro Vancouver. Century Group is developing 3 Civic Plaza which will house Surrey’s highest skyscraper, a 50-storey condo, office and hotel tower. The Sovereign, a Bosa Properties project in Burnaby’s Metrotown, is expected to be B.C.’s second-tallest building at 500 feet. Appia Development’s Solo District project in Burnaby at Lougheed Highway and Willingdon Avenue has four towers ranging upwards of 38 storeys. Station Square at Metrotown includes plans for five towers ranging from 35 to 57 storeys. Coquitlam has approved a development agreement for Windsor Gate, a Polygon Homes project with two 25-story towers. Concord Pacific is proposing a 31-storey tower in Metrotown. Abbotsford is expecting to see a Quantum Properties 26-storey tower, Mahogany at Mill Lake.

Surrey has three town centre highrise projects in development, “all above 30 storeys and that’s great,” said Surrey city councillor Barinder Rasode. Surrey is actively encouraging highrises in place of urban sprawl, she said. “We can’t fight the fact that 1,200 people a month move to Surrey and we are also going to have, in the next 10 years, an increase in the number of seniors by 179 per cent.”

“As we’re creating communities that are more walkable and bikeable and while we’re protecting our agricultural and industrial landbase, density is the only option,” Rasode said.

Metro Vancouver’s regional growth strategy, approved in 1996, created a pattern of development that concentrates density in town centres and protects natural areas and both agricultural and industrial land.

Area residents may be starting to notice a flurry of highrise development because of a two- to three-year delay between presales and construction, said Darren Kwiatkowski, Shape Properties executive vice-president.

“The basic philosophy has been there, whether Burnaby, Central Surrey or Richmond,” Kwiatkowski said. “What you’re seeing now is just market economics and social economic trends.”


Young people are increasingly choosing car-free lifestyles, so transit has become a key driver for residential condo sales. “The projects that are selling the best in the Lower Mainland, are on SkyTrain [lines,]” Kwiatkowski said. “What that translates into is more highrise.”

Kwiatkowski predicted that office development will soon be driven by tenants seeking similar convenience. “What’s coming is a fundamental shift from low-density business parks to office facilities on transit.”

The final height of a tower is determined by a fine balancing act between presale numbers and building costs. “Once you get over 50 to 55 storeys, you’re looking at premiums,” for additional elevator banks, and wind and earthquake considerations, Kwiatkowski said.

He does not foresee many of the current Metro Vancouver projects coming in at over 50 stories.

“There is a premium to concrete over wood frame construction. Not every Lower Mainland market will support it. the housing price has to get to a certain point where concrete is an alternative. Over the last 15 years, downtown, you could build a highrise, the economics there worked. In Metrotown it worked and in Richmond it worked. So you’re now starting to see the economics work as housing prices rise gradually and it becomes a more accepted form of living.”

Lower Mainland residents still trying to live with values left over from the 1950s have an emotional disconnect that comes from a lack of clear government policies encouraging alternative kinds of housing other than single family, said Penny Gurstein, a University of BC professor community and regional planning.

“It isn’t necessarily [about] the housing type,” Gurstein said. “It’s the kind of values underlying that.”

“There is nothing inherently wrong with highrise especially in a place like Brentwood which is a transportation node and there’s shopping, there’s entertainment, there’s work there. If you want to do density, that’s the best place to be doing it.”

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun