Burnaby seeks to make a downtown out of Metrotown

Plan, still in its early stages, calls for an up zoning of Kingsway

Metrotown’s sterility may be rooted in the fact that the neighbourhood is literally named after a 1960s urban planning term. When regional planners prepared a study on Burnaby, they referred to it as the city’s “metro town” and it stuck. Four decades later and the city of Burnaby wants to evolve Metrotown into a downtown, hence it’s in the early days of outlining a long-term plan to re-urbanize the area.

“[This plan] for Metrotown provides the opportunity to create a true downtown for Burnaby; one that enables the highest order of land use and development,” writes Lou Pelletier, director of planning and building for the city of Burnaby in his introduction to the report. It was introduced to council’s planning committee on Tuesday, and now city staff are seeking preliminary approval from council to allow for public consultation over the summer. A final draft development plan would go before council again in the fall.

If approved, the plan would remake the streetscape of Kingsway, clearing the way for the redevelopment of blocks of single-use office complexes, malls and residential towers for mixed-use development, more akin to downtown New Westminster or Vancouver. In the blocks behind Kingsway, it would allow for a swath of low-rise apartment blocks to be replaced by four-to-12-storey towers (that process has already begun) and make the area more pedestrian friendly with new plazas and the like. The goal, the plan states, is “to establish an exciting, inclusive, and sustainable downtown for Burnaby; one comprised of well-connected neighbourhoods that provide a sense of place and community identity.”

It’s been almost 40 years since Burnaby adopted its long-term development plan for the Metrotown area in 1977. Over the following two decades, a series of malls—most prominently Metropolis at Metrotown—were developed, as Kingsway was lined with towers set back from the streets, with overpasses for pedestrians at certain points (rare in other city centers centres in the region). And in those intervening years a lot happened; first the construction of the SkyTrain in 1985, and then a series of long-term visions adopted by the city—its 1995 Transportation Plan, its 1998 Official Community Plan and the 2011 Regional Growth Strategy—which didn’t always correspond with changes to Metrotown’s plan. That final plan called for Burnaby to increase its population by 125,000 over the next 25 years, and Metrotown will be expected to accommodate “a significant component of the city’s residential and commercial growth.”

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