Saturday, March 1, 2014

Politics behind opposition to Brentwood development?

There has been some written and verbal opposition to the Brentwood Mall Redevelopment in recent weeks and months. With the upcoming municipal election this year, the timing of some of the opposition is obvious.

For example, Helen Ward has suddenly reappeared publicly after a 2-year hiatus in an attempt to salvage whatever might be left of her reputation after she participated in an ugly anti-gay Burnaby municipal election campaign in 2011.  What her motives are for suddenly vocalizing her opposition will always be overshadowed by her political past and what she stands for as she ran for the Burnaby School Board in 2011 under the "Parents Voice" banner.

Not all vocally opposed are politically motivated

However for others, its not politics, but genuine concern for the neighbourhood that fuels the concern that their fears are not being seriously considered by the current Burnaby Council.  I have spoken to some of them and share their concerns regarding local traffic.   Many of them actually support the concept of the Brentwood Mall Redevelopment (as I do), but wish to see improvements made to discourage speeding rat-runners on local streets.

Last November, when citizens living on Brentlawn Drive and Graveley Street met with the city's Traffic Safety Committee, their suggestions to improve safety were invalidated outright.  For example, the committee decided that the suggested 4-way stops at intersections along Brentlawn Drive are not warranted despite the proven risks posed to both drivers and pedestrians needing to cross Brentlawn Drive.  This past week which saw significant snowfall, I witnessed several near accidents as drivers attempted to enter Brentlawn Drive off of Beta Ave.  The visibility for vehicles trying to enter or cross Brentlawn Drive on Beta is slim to none at best due to the curve along Brentlawn Dr as it intersects Beta Ave from the west, yet the current traffic safety committee is not keen on a 4-way stop.  The lip service given by the Traffic Safety Committee to those concerned about traffic safety in the Brentwood Park neighbourhood should not be overshadowed by the politically motivated opponents of this project.  After all, safety should not depend on political views.

Below are some recent articles and letter on the Brentwood Mall Redevelopment in the local news media:

  • posted Feb 27, 2014 at 3:00 PM
The NewsLeader has published more than a dozen stories on the proposed redevelopment of Brentwood mall since late 2011.
They’ve been on our paper’s front page, page three and beyond. There have been open houses, a master plan, rezoning applications and public hearings, all before shovels even hit the ground.
And yet, just before Christmas and again this month, suddenly we started seeing letters decrying a lack of public consultation and the overly massive scale of the 30-year project.
So what happened?
Welcome to the silly season, folks.
Perhaps their timing is simply unfortunate and coincidental. But one can’t help wonder whether other forces are afoot.
We are now just over eight months away from the next civic election. Leading up to Tuesday’s public hearing on the first tower planned for Brentwood mall, just such a letter made the rounds to local media.
And it so happens that four out of the eight people who signed it are either former civic election candidates or backroom operatives for local and provincial political parties.
Of the other four, I know three have legitimate concerns about traffic in their neighbourhoods which sit adjacent or quite near the mall site.
Unfortunately, by aligning themselves with these political types, let’s just say the optics aren’t good.
People complain about the fact the Burnaby Citizens Association has a complete monopoly on civic politics, having swept the last two elections for mayor, council and school board.
But the reality is voters aren’t given much in the way of choices at election time. They can’t simply turn to those who have held the BCA’s feet to the fire, because in between elections, there’s no one around doing that.
It appears after each race, the unsuccessful candidates go back to their regular lives, jobs and families for a couple of years, resting and topping up their savings accounts before they brace themselves to take another run at it. That’s the repeat candidates. Others just give up and move on.
In the year before the election, political parties and candidates pop up—kind of like those temporary shops and food kiosks so trendy today—and stir the pot, hoping to dig up issues they can hang a campaign on.
Like a lack of public consultation on a major development project.
Back in 2005, it was a Team Burnaby-fueled perception that crime was taking over the city. Never mind that crime rates have been dropping steadily in recent years.
Speaking of Team Burnaby, it sent out a press release last week just to let people know they are still around and promising to run a full slate of candidates.
It’s too bad the party’s focus is on quantity and not necessarily quality. Its past practice of recruiting warm bodies for its slate only serves to hurt the credibility of the candidates with the experience and background to help make a difference.
Burnaby Parents Voice, meanwhile, has aggressively sought accountability on issues at the school district. It ran a slate of candidates for school trustee back in 2011. Unfortunately, the party, if it’s even still active, will always be linked to its original reason for being—to vehemently oppose the district’s policy aimed at combatting homophobia in Burnaby schools.
The Burnaby Greens were a refreshing addition last election, but its links to Parents Voice on the Brentwood mall issue now seems to muddy its image of a party with liberal and practical views on how the city should be run.
And while all these folks jog towards the start line in the distance, the left-wing BCA is almost already there. Its well-oiled political machine continues to hum along, building and maintaining support, holding fundraisers to fill its communal war chest so personal finances aren’t an impediment to its candidates.
It seems the BCA is always only a few phone calls away from going into full battle mode.
Love them or not, this much can be said for them: they’re organized.
• Wanda Chow is a reporter with the NewsLeader.

North Burnaby resident Helen Ward was leading the charge this week against the Brentwood mall redevelopment project. She claims there hasn't been enough public consultation.
The first she ever heard about the Brentwood development was Aug. 28, 2012. That's when a friend told her of a public hearing on the master plan for the project which could include towers up to 70 storeys tall, said Ward. She attended and raised concerns about the late summer timing of the hearing and the fact only residents within 30 metres of the site are notified by the city.
She said she lives about a mile away from the mall, and goes by the mall all the time to use SkyTrain and shop. "The 30-metre rule is just a joke."
Construction has recently led to changes to the area's bus connections. That's inconveniencing her and making life difficult for seniors and people with disabilities, she said.
And she held up the public process for the proposed redevelopment of Oakridge mall in Vancouver as a model for how it should be done.
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said the 30-metre rule is what's required by the Local Government Act. City hall goes beyond that by advertising in local newspapers.
He's also quick to point to the recent critics' political backgrounds.
Indeed, of the eight people who signed a recent letter to council about their concerns, four have past involvement in local politics.
Ward was a 2011 candidate for school trustee for Burnaby Parents Voice. That party grew out of opposition to the school district's policy to combat homophobia.
South Burnaby resident Rick McGowan ran for council under the Burnaby Greens banner. G. Bruce Friesen was that party's campaign manager in the last election and is a former B.C. Green Party candidate. And David Field has strong ties to the BC Liberal party.
Corrigan said consultation on the Brentwood area plans started in 1996. That's when the plan was adopted following a mailout, mall displays, an open house and a public meeting. It's also when the mall site was designated for high density development.
Since then, "dozens" of rezonings, each with its own public hearing, have been done under the 1996 plan.
The public process for the Brentwood mall project started in early 2012 and included two open houses for the master plan, and open houses for each phase. Developer Shape Properties made adjustmentsto the initial plan based on public input.
And there were three public hearings, for the master plan, for tenant relocation and its commercial precinct. The fourth was on Tuesday for the first residential tower. At 53 storeys, 300 of the 591 units are planned for market rental housing.
"This would make this the one area that has received more public consultation than any place in Burnaby," Corrigan said.
"But those guys are all saying there's been no consultation and I'm suggesting there may be a little politics being played."
After all, the next civic election is only eight months away.
As for the Vancouver comparison, he said, the Oakridge project is a brand new concept for that area but the Brentwood concept has been around since 1996.
"I just can't imagine what more we can possibly do to make absolutely clear to everyone that we're creating density around the SkyTrain stations," he said. It's a way to accommodate growth in the city and prevent  urban sprawl into the Fraser Valley.
But not all the people who signed the letter have ties to local politics.
Cherie Moses said she wasn't aware of the political backgrounds of some of her co-signers. She is simply frustrated by the lack of response to the traffic concerns raised by herself and her neighbours on Graveley Street.
She was aware of the redevelopment and even attended a presentation by Shape shortly after she moved into the neighbourhood two years ago from Edmonton.
But despite following the city's process in trying to have her traffic concerns addressed, she feels as if she's hitting a brick wall. Traffic is bad enough now, she can't see it getting any better with more people moving into the area.
"I am naive about the politics, for sure I am, but I'm not naive about what I believe is right," Moses said.
Corrigan said the city is well aware of the issue.
So far the community's response to the redevelopment has been "extremely positive, it's very exciting," he said. "The one issue that's been a resident issue from the community has been traffic."
He placed much of the blame on the provincial government expanding Highway 1. More vehicles are using the freeway, so people are trying to find alternate routes to and from Vancouver through Brentwood.
"But those are not problems that arise from growth, that's the problems that arise from commuter traffic."
Brentwood residents have "valid concerns" about traffic and the city is working on solutions, but it's not an easy fix.
Corrigan said he will not suggest the Brentwood project won't create more traffic. But the hope is that most of the new residents will use the non-car options available. That ranges from transit to car-sharing vehicles provided by the developer to the project's residents.
In the long run, it's hoped commuters will decide it's not worth fighting the congestion in Brentwood and choose alternatives.
"This is not about Lougheed being an easy way to commute. It's about that area becoming transit dependent and transit friendly. if you want to get to Brentwood the best way will be by SkyTrain."

Burnaby Now Letter
Residents concerned with Brentwood mall process
Burnaby Now
February 24, 2014 10:49 AM

Dear Editor:
(This is an open letter sent to the Burnaby mayor and councillors.)
Dear Mayor Corrigan and council,

In your 2012 inaugural speech you stated, "Whenever Burnaby embarks on a new ... land use plan, to ensure the plan is citizen-driven, we incorporate consultation that will involve and engage everyone…  Maintaining citizens’ faith in the City’s consultation processes is critical."
With Brentwood, Edmonds, Lougheed, and Metrotown all now slated for or undergoing massive redevelopment, such a process is essential. Existing community plans provide the logical legal starting point for public discussions.
To quote a January [year?] report to your Council colleagues regarding Lougheed redevelopment: “More significantly still, a contemporary approach to planning, including a dynamic, responsive, inclusive, and interactive community and public engagement process, is required.” Council passed a motion “to undertake an Open House process to receive community and public feedback on the preliminary concepts and vision for the Lougheed Mall”.
This process has yet to happen for the Brentwood area. Instead;
(1)    You claimed ownership of the private developer’s plan, calling it “our concept” at the first Public Hearing. Before that, in a CBC interview Coun. Paul McDonell called it “the crown jewel”.
(2)   You, or members of city staff, cancelled outright one Public Hearing on Brentwood and pulled redevelopment from another agenda at the last minute.
(3)   You, or members of city staff, set the legally required hearings before council in late summer 2012 and during Christmas time 2013: a classic timing tactic that minimizes public input.

Thus“citizens’ faith in the City’s consultation processes” has been sorely damaged.
The following are some specific concerns about your “process” of non-consultation.
You are using a rezoning process that is inappropriate for an undertaking of this scale and regional impact. That process was intended for zoning changes, not for building a city within a city. Only homeowners within a mere 30 metres receive notification. For many Brentwood projects this includes very few or none. Only one sign notifying of the rezoning needs to be placed on a property of 28 acres.
Compare the process for a similar redevelopment in Vancouver: Oakridge Mall. Before any Public Hearing has taken place there has been a year of on-line and open house public input opportunities, impact assessments, and guarantees of public-owned amenities and affordable housing.
But here in Burnaby you have held no public info/input sessions outside two Public Hearings in 16 months. You approved the developer’s “Master Plan” after only one public hearing held late summer.  You left public information and collection of public input to the private developer at under-publicized summertime meetings.

Collateral damage leading up to the approval of Shape’s “amazing” Master Plan in September 2013 included prior approval of closure of the Brentwood bus loop in June – with zero input from transit users. 
You apparently accept Shape’s estimates of how fast we can walk in five to 20 minutes. But the estimates on their map [5] are for unencumbered, able-bodied adults who can walk as the crow flies with no traffic lights to navigate. As the Shape PR says, “amazing”.
The reality is that loop closure forces people to cross Lougheed – strollers, wheelchairs, walkers, and weather notwithstanding.  They are conscripted to do the "hustle and bustle" to create the "urbane city centre" feeling prescribed in Shape’s plan [6]. But we'd rather forgo frolicking fashionably across a busy highway and have safe, convenient connections afforded by the loop instead.
What became of the official plan (see below) which calls for "pedestrian grade-separated crossing of the Lougheed Highway" and loop improvements, not eradication?
This for what has been dubbed “Transit Oriented Development."
This type of Transit Oriented Development penalizes and discourages transit use, and will add to the misery of Brentwood residents.  They already cope with rat-running commuters from other neighbourhoods along Lougheed frustrated by construction delays - which may continue for the next 30+ years.  And they will apparently be sharing residential streets with thousands of new neighbours. 

At the Nov 2013 Public Hearing, you repeatedly invoked a little-known 1974 Community Plan as if it were written in stone, using it to brush off concerns about the impact of a proposed condo near Canada Way and Sperling on access for the fire hall and impact on local streams, schools, and traffic congestion.

Surely these plans need public input more often than at 40 year intervals.

Moreover, the sacredness of such dust-gathering plans appears highly selective: you never mentioned the official 1996 Brentwood Community Plan at public hearings. 
That official Plan lists 16,500 people for Brentwood population, but in 2010 you gave an estimate of 32,000 in a presentation to another private developer. Was that just a slip of the tongue?
The terms "human scale", "village", and "natural environment" were cited as imperatives in the 1996 plan.  The illustrations show high-rises of about 20 stories.  But now citizens are referred to Shape’s "amazing" Master Plan (including images like cartoon stills from the Jetsons featuring 13 towers at 40-70 stories.) Not to mention the 52, 55, and 61 story towers under construction nearby.

We ask you on behalf of Burnaby residents: How many more towers?  How high?  How much congestion at Willingdon & Lougheed?  And how many accidents for mobility-challenged transit users? 
The Master Plan video shows not one person with cane, wheelchair or stroller; none overweight or bald; no children; no grass, no rain, no dogs; no buskers, beggars, or pipe-line protesters.
Where are the flesh and blood ‘human scale’ people living here now and our future neighbours?

Real public input would have spotted these flaws in Shape’s plan.  (For example the rather ludicrous claim that Lougheed "will be pedestrian and cyclist friendly".)
But you have apparently adopted a fortress mentality: rubberstamp, duck, stonewall, and otherwise avoid real public input.
A final observation: a recent UBC engineering study found that the terrain of the lower mainland may amplify an earthquake to produce 3-4 times the shaking previously estimated, especially impacting “tall” buildings (Science News). Mother Nature has raised an issue you need to answer even if you won’t answer ours.

Our concerns are reasonable: safe and convenient connections for transit use; easy access for fire trucks, safe residential streets.  And, to use your terms: "human scale" and "citizen driven" development.

Yours sincerely,
Helen Ward, Cherie Moses, Matthew Senf, Rick McGowan, David Field, Terry MacDonald, G. Bruce Friesen, Jackson Jung, via email
© Burnaby Now

News 1130 story
Burnaby locals divided on merits of Brentwood development
Some excited about new shops, others concerned community doesn’t have infrastructure to support expansion
Sara Norman February 25, 2014 11:59 pm
BURNABY (NEWS1130) – People living around Brentwood Town Centre are divided on whether development of eleven giant towers will be good for the area. Locals packed Burnaby City Hall Tuesday night to voice their concerns during the latest public hearing on the first tower, slated to be 53 stories tall. But not everyone was opposed to the towers.
People already living in apartments nearby say the mall is a ghost-town and there’s just not enough shopping or services to keep them from heading elsewhere.
“I find that a lot of the retail and the amenities are lacking, causing me to go either downtown or to Metrotown,” says Willa Chang, an expectant mother who moved to the Brentwood area because of proposed development.
But others, like Helen Ward, say height of the proposed towers ranging from 53 to 70 stories, are excessive, and there’s not enough infrastructure to support the extra population.
“Shopping is great, and going to restaurants is fun too, but it’s not the be all and end all to build a community. You need a lot more… There needs to be amenities such as pools, parks, maybe a skating rink, schools,” says Ward.
Others said they’re worried the development, estimated to bring up to 30-thousand more people to the area, would be too much for already crowded local schools.
Those dependent on public transit are concerned construction is already making the Skytrain less accessible, doubling their commute times and causing problems for people with strollers or wheelchairs. In addition, the removal of the local bus loop have left them walking for more than twenty minutes before catching a bus when their previous trips took only five.
The development will include 300 rental apartments, but only five percent will be accessible for those with disabilities. Another 291 will be strata property for sale. The apartment sizes start at 538 square feet and are designed to provide affordable housing for the first time buyer, something that excited renters attending the hearing.
Shape Properties, the developers of the Brentwood expansion, say construction is slated for summer 2014. In addition to residential towers, it will include 1.3 million square feet of retail and 500,000 square feet of office space to create a new downtown core for Burnaby.

The Province
Burnaby accused of rubberstamping massive Brentwood redevelopment

Burnaby residents who live near the approved new massive redevelopment of the Brentwood area of the city are angry that the city has closed the bus loop, forcing transit users to use lengthy detours that involve climbing a long flight of stairs and crossing busy Lougheed Hwy.
And one group of citizens is accusing council of “rubberstamping” the developer’s master plan for the development with limited public consultation.
“The bus loop was closed on Dec. 14 with no consultation with the people who take the bus or the SkyTrain,” said Helen Ward, who lives in North Burnaby and signed a two-page letter with seven others sent to Mayor Derek Corrigan and council. “What used to take 10 seconds to board a bus from the SkyTrain now involves walking two blocks.”
The group is urging council to pay more attention to their concerns about how the high-density development, which includes a 70-storey condo building, will affect the neighbourhood.
Plans include a revamping of the 28 acres that Brentwood Town Centre sits on to make it more pedestrian-friendly, adding street shops and restaurants.
“They want, quote, hustle and bustle, but we don’t want hustle and bustle, we’d rather just get on the bus,” said Ward.
She said it’s difficult to get any councillor to listen to their concerns and she and others said they weren’t made aware of the two public hearings held on the development because the city is required to only send out mailings about the meetings to residents who live within 30 metres of the proposed development.
“Thirty metres doesn’t even extend to across the street,” said resident Gordon Shank, who lives in a high-rise condo above the Save-On Foods store about two kilometres away. “Nobody lives within 30 metres of Brentwood, so that basically excludes everyone.”
He also said closing the bus loop is going to inconvenience transit users, especially those pushing strollers, carrying groceries or are in any way mobility-disabled because the detour includes 40 steps.
Messages left with Mayor Corrigan and other members of council weren’t returned.
Corrigan’s assistant said Ward’s letter will be presented to council during its next regular meeting, on Monday, and council will respond to it then.
© Copyright (c) The Province

Mayor, council to blame for Brentwood bus mess

Helen Ward / Burnaby Now
January 9, 2014 08:32 AM

In his recent letter to the editor (Mayor not at fault for this mess, Burnaby NOW, Dec. 27, Mr. McQueen calls the decision to close the bus loop at Brentwood "asinine" and lays the blame on TransLink. But looking at the process makes it clear that the all-NDP/BCA mayor and council made the decision.
The mall owner, Shape, made an "amazing master plan" which eliminates the loop. Corrigan and council approved the plan last September. They had already, in June, approved the loop-closure-related recommendations in a transportation committee report. The purpose of that report was to "seek the necessary council authorization" for rerouting buses, the consequence of closing the loop in order to make way for Shape's as yet (and even now) unapproved construction. The Now reported that Coun. Colleen Jordan called the changes "amazing." 
Coun. Sav Dhaliwal moved the report in committee, then voted against it in committee and council. At least he showed some backbone. 
Surely council and mayor could require the developer to keep the loop as a condition of "transit-oriented development" and densification. Of course corporate owners don't want a grungy bus loop crowded with the poor and lame taking up space that could be dedicated to sexy shops and "sleek towers." But council, and not Shape, is elected to be the master planner, and to protect the public's interest, not Shape's profits. 
The report disses the loop for not being sufficiently "urban." This term mimics Shape's master plan, which stresses the need to be "urban." Certainly more pedestrian roadkill may give us transit users the hip urban edge that comes with living dangerously as we trundle across the highway pushing our strollers, shopping carts and walkers. 
 The mayor and council's process - of their making - is deeply flawed. First, transit users were not consulted. Council's transportation committee has no one representing transit users, a large, diverse and vulnerable group. There is a bicycle advisory group sub-committee: great, but it's also council green-wash. Green for most means riding buses, not bikes.
Secondly, they left it to the private corporation to gather public input. Shape held a little publicized "information meeting" June 26 - after council had approved the loop closure.
Thirdly, the transportation committee report has an obvious omission: it doesn't explicitly mention but requires closing the ramp/pedestrian overpass which provides safe access to and from SkyTrains. This would not have passed scrutiny by anyone who actually uses transit in the area.
The report also states that "most" walk distances will be shorter. When - three years? And it's time and safety that counts: waiting at intersections and for elevators means more time and more missed connections. This will be worse when the ramp/overpass is closed.   
At the public hearing on Dec. 10, I asked Corrigan and council questions about the loop closure. Will the ramp be closed? Will the sidewalks be salted and cleared in icy/snowy conditions? Who is liable if someone is injured - the developer or the city? None of the questions were answered.
Afterwards, Coun. Pietro Calendino reprimanded me and expressed his displeasure with "political rants and all the s**t you're talking about."
Shape's vice-president was quoted in the NOW saying that the sidewalks near the mall would be maintained. But they didn't shovel a long stretch on the south side of Lougheed Highway. Maybe they don't want to cross it either.
Helen Ward is a Burnaby resident.
© Burnaby Now

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