A local developer and builder plan to turn an industrial site on the banks of the Fraser River into Vancouver's latest new neighbourhood - with a little help from an urban design guru.
Jointly owned Wesgroup Income Properties LP and Park Lane Homes have teamed up with Andres Duany, the father of the "new urbanism" movement, to develop the 126-acre East Fraserlands site, which includes 1.4 km of waterfront space on the city's southeastern edge.
"I'd like it to be at least as good as what's being built downtown (around Coal Harbour)," says Duany, who is known worldwide for revitalizing suburban cityscapes.
New urbanism emphasizes the development of communities and the quality of the living environment and denounces urban sprawl, which is viewed as not esthetic and damaging to people's sense of community.
|Bayne Stanley, Business Edge|
|Andres Duany of urban planning firm DPZ takes a look at the former sawmill site that will be transformed into Vancouver's newest neighbourhood.|
Today, the East Fraserlands property looks like a pile of rubble. However, on clear days, Mount Baker (located in nearby Washington state) is visible to the east and a gently bending waterway winds its way to the sea to the west.
About 15 to 20 years from now, East Fraserlands will contain a soccer field, a school, 4,500 to 5,000 residential units for 10,000 people, a marina and maybe even a beaver pond - among other attributes.
Pending the approval of rezoning, development and regulatory approvals, the first residents will move into their new homes in 2009.
Located on Kent Avenue South between Kerr Street and Boundary Road, just south of Marine Drive, East Fraserlands is the former site of MacMillan Bloedel Ltd.'s Canadian White Pine sawmill, which (along with the company) was taken over by Weyerhauser Canada and closed in 2002.
Once a staple of the local economy, the mill is now a brownfield property that has undergone extensive environmental remediation under Wesgroup and Park Lane.
Norm Shearing, Park Lane's vice-president of development, says in addition to improving soil quality, the new community will help rehabilitate the Fraser and increase salmon stocks, recycle and avoid over-use of water, and reduce emissions by providing different modes of transportation. The project will also use the live-work-play concept to ensure the area's profitability.
The companies hope to capitalize on Kent's quick access to Marine Drive (which also runs east to west) and, accordingly, to Vancouver International Airport, Burnaby and bridges to New Westminster, Surrey and Richmond.
They also expect the RAV rapid transit line to extend eastward someday, and are making efforts to get access to adjacent but seldom-used Canadian Pacific Railway tracks that might become part of RAV or a separate light- rail transit service.
The project involves a process in which the developer, city planners, nearby residents in West Fraserlands, Victoria-Fraserview, Killarney and Champlain Heights and others offer their visions of what the community should look like.
During two public meetings held a week apart, the participants devised five potential blueprints that will eventually become one final plan - with open spaces reserved for future development based on unforeseen demand.
"The idea is that you get everybody you need in one room and just get it done," says Duany, who built his reputation largely on the development of the town of Seaside, Fla.
He will "challenge" local architects to make East Fraserlands different from Coal Harbour, while showing off the new site's environmentally friendly qualities.
"We don't want it to be the same (as Coal Harbour), because the density is much higher downtown - it's also more expensive," says Duany, referring to unit prices.
Contending that the development-approval process takes too long, Duany is also calling on the public to help Wesgroup, Park Lane, politicians and city planners create a community that everyone enjoys - as quickly as possible.
"We always work in public like this," says Duany. "We always work with everybody who has a say and we have certain principles we believe in - walkability, compactness, diversity - but we adjust them locally."
He is not worried about having too many chefs in the kitchen. Sometimes, when a certain position doesn't come up for discussion, he presents it.
"We want large numbers of people, so that all points of view come up," says Duany. "And if they don't come up, then we get it wrong."
Duany has about 75 communities under construction worldwide, mostly in the eastern U.S., with about 30 more in the planning stages. In Canada, he has designed the Toronto-area communities of Cornell and Markham and Calgary's McKenzie Town.
Gino Nonni, Wesgroup's president, says his group purchased the site from Weyerhauser because of its waterfront, its views of Mount Baker and its accessibility to major transportation arteries.
The location also allows for comprehensive planning of a community in which residents can live, work and play.
"The idea is to create a community where every individual has the ability to go from a baby to an elderly person," says Nonni.
Housing will range from single'-family homes to high-rise condos. The district is also expected to have many retail shops.
Wesgroup has almost completed the site's soil remediation, but is awaiting provincial approval of the plan for the central area's cleanup.
According to Wesgroup development manager Brent Tedford, the remediation removes contaminants including hydrocarbons and creosote, the toxic tar-like preservative once used to coat telephone poles and other wood products, which was produced at a facility built before the sawmill.
(Monte Stewart can be reached at email@example.com)