March 6, 2013

Transit fuelling Burnaby’s growth

Michael Ferreira is watching Burnaby enter its most ambitious growth spurt yet.

Mr. Ferreira, who attended broadcasting school in Burnaby in 1986, recalls that year as the turning point for Burnaby as the Expo Line opened and spurred a development craze. Condos and shopping centres sprouted up near the busy Metrotown rapid transit station through the 1990s. The Millennium Line opened in 2002, giving Burnaby a further boost.

The site of the Station Square condo and retail project in Burnaby, B.C., March 5, 2013.A real estate expert who co-owns Urban Analytics Inc., Mr. Ferreira said Burnaby has been a trail blazer for transit-oriented development in Metro Vancouver. Students who take public transit still have to catch a bus to get to the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT), but bus connections from SkyTrain stations have generally improved over the past couple of decades, fuelling growth across Burnaby.

“Burnaby is an attractive market because of its central location in the Lower Mainland, with two SkyTrain routes going through it,” said Mr. Ferreira, who worked as a radio disc jockey after graduating from BCIT’s broadcasting program in 1987. He remembers the popular album back in his final semester at BCIT was U2’s The Joshua Tree, but he later decided that life as a DJ wasn’t his calling. He returned to BCIT to take the real estate management program from 1990 to 1992, giving him the foundation for his career as a housing analyst.

In the Metrotown neighbourhood, developers Anthem Properties and Beedie Living are starting construction on the first of five condo high-rises in their Station Square mixed-use project. Located next to the Metropolis at Metrotown mall, Station Square attracted solid interest during last fall’s tepid real estate market. The first tower, with 269 units in 35 storeys, sold out in October. Construction is slated for completion by late 2015.

Station Square, which offers service in English, Mandarin and Cantonese, estimates the vast majority of its condo buyers are currently living in Burnaby, Vancouver or Richmond. Crystal Mall, the largest Asian-themed shopping centre in Western Canada, is across the street from Station Square. Four more Station Square high-rises, with a total of 1,531 units, are planned within eight years. Retail and office complexes are also envisaged.

An older district near Burrard Inlet, Burnaby Heights, has its share of fans who are fond of a stretch of shops on East Hastings Street, from Boundary Road to

Gamma Avenue. Popular merchants include the Valley Bakery, Chez Meme Baguette Bistro, Anton’s Pasta Bar and the Pear Tree restaurant. But most of the newcomers moving to Burnaby have been flocking to residential projects around rapid transit stations, including Metrotown.

The population within 800 metres of the Metrotown station grew from 12,663 in 1991 to 19,770 in 2006, or a 56-per-cent jump, according to data compiled by Metro Vancouver. The 2011 census showed 25,321 people living in the Metrotown area, or 11 per cent of Burnaby’s population. “From a housing affordability perspective, Burnaby gives buyers more value than Vancouver,” Mr. Ferreira said.

Bob Ransford, an urban development consultant, said the two SkyTrain routes that run through Burnaby have a ripple effect. “The stations are hubs for buses. There is a diverse network of transit connections. Not everyone goes to downtown Vancouver to go to work,” he said.

Burnaby has a wide range of employers, including BCIT, Simon Fraser University, Telus Corp. and Electronic Arts Inc. “There are a lot of jobs in Burnaby in different areas,” Mr. Ransford said. “Burnaby has done a great job developing density around the SkyTrains stations, more so than what Vancouver has done.”

Burnaby is focusing development in four “town centres” linked by SkyTrain service – Brentwood, Metrotown, Lougheed and Edmonds. “One thing that the City of Burnaby did well was rezone land around transit stations,” said Michael Geller, an urban planning consultant. Near the Brentwood SkyTrain station, five kilometres north of Metrotown, developer Shape Properties has big retail plans to expand the Brentwood Town Centre shopping mall, as well as add a series of condo and office towers in an ambitious proposal that will span more than two decades. “Burnaby doesn’t have a traditional downtown centre, like in Langley or Maple Ridge or Chilliwack,” Mr. Geller said. “Burnaby has a collection of shopping districts and business parks.”

In today’s condo craze, it’s easy to forget that new projects must be spread over the long term to avoid a housing glut. “Developers have to be careful about monitoring what condos are on the market today and what’s coming up,” Mr. Ferreira said.

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