dr martens gaucho A tale of two Hastings zones
Tsakumis, Epta’s vice president of development, said their property on Hastings at Gamma Avenue is an example of why the area’s zoning needs to be reconsidered.
The company bought the property in 2006 for its Montage project. Tsakumis said they were encouraged by Burnaby’s planning department to buy the triangular shaped lot next door, then home to a veterinary clinic, and incorporate it into its design.
In 2008, the zoning for the 4500 to 4800 blocks of Hastings St., those east of Willingdon Avenue, were rezoned to allow retail commercial. Up until then, commercial there was limited to service related businesses.
The new zone created for the area, C4A, allowed for less floor space to be built compared to what’s permitted in the comparable zoning west of Willingdon.
That’s meant developers are forced to either make the building smaller than could potentially be allowed a few blocks west, or they have to build a second storey of office space.
The latter is what Epta tried to do, along with proposing a more expensive flatiron shaped design to include the irregular shaped lot next door, but in the end the economics didn’t make sense.
Tsakumis said they spent two years trying to find tenants for that office space, to no avail. “It’s too far east. Residential and retail will work but office, it’s not the core.” He added the area also doesn’t have transit such as SkyTrain to attract potential tenants.
And without tenants, the developer couldn’t secure financing for the project.
So Epta went back to council asking for a rezoning to allow them to turn that space into market residential. But council turned them down because it went against the zoning for the area.
Tsakumis said at one point they considered selling the property to another developer but because of the zoning restrictions, they had no takers. “Everyone said, ‘not a chance, [the office space is] going to be sitting there vacant.'”
So Epta is forgoing the extra floor space offered by the office portion and building just the residential and commercial space allowed, and in a more rectangular design.
It’s a project they could have built years ago, Tsakumis said, “without having bought the next door neighbour and basically without having spent and thrown out the window a million and a half dollars,” in carrying costs, architectural plans and the like.
“I think it’s hindered that eastern portion of [Hastings] from becoming something better than what it is,” he said of the C4A zone.
Tsakumis stressed he believes the impact of the zoning requirements were not intentional on the part of Burnaby city hall. “It’s more of an oversight.”
Isabel Kolic, executive director of the Heights Merchants Association (HMA), recently wrote to Burnaby council expressing similar concerns about the zoning situation raised by the organization’s members.
In another example of the lack of demand for new second floor office space, Kolic wrote that Boffo Development’s Firma building still has a partly empty office floor after more than two years. Half of the office space is occupied only because Boffo uses it for its own headquarters.
She said in an interview that one of the challenges is that the area can’t command the higher rents for brand new office space that are needed to justify the construction costs.
The HMA believes a simple solution would be to allow the same zone on Hastings on either side of Willingdon to eliminate the discrepancy. After all, property owners on both sides already pay taxes based on the higher development potential of the western end.
But while the C8A zoning allowed west of Willingdon permits more floor space than in the C4A, it’s not without its own set of challenges for developers.
Kolic said in both cases, the amount of space technically allowed to be built isn’t actually physically possible. That’s because while it could be accommodated within the height limitation of 52.5 feet in a five storey building, only four storeys are permitted.
Some recent projects have managed to build essentially four and a half storeys, with a mezzanine level in the back, such as the Vancity branch redevelopment.
And Epta is planning such a work around in its redevelopment of the former North Burnaby Legion Hall site between Madison and Rosser avenues.
“The reality is if people are buying these units, that means they want to live in this community,” Tsakumis said. “So let’s let people live here, let’s make it vibrant, let’s make these businesses vibrant, let’s work together.”
Coun. Colleen Jordan, chair of Burnaby’s community development committee, said city staff have been asked to look into the concerns raised in Kolic’s letter.
It’s not unusual for the effectiveness of zoning bylaws to be reviewed after they’ve been implemented, Jordan said.
She noted that Hastings west of Willingdon went through a public consultation back in the 1990s where residents and businesses stated they wanted to keep a village feel in the neighbourhood with nothing more than low rise buildings.
It reflected the desire to keep long established businesses viable, and prevent them being pushed out by massive redevelopment.
“But east of Willingdon was like a blank slate. We had all these vacant lots, and businesses that weren’t thriving at all.”
As for the office space requirements, Jordan said there appears to be a growing trend away from professionals locating in second floor spaces all over Burnaby. Landlords are finding it difficult to lease that sort of space with more doctors and dentists preferring to locate at ground level.