A graphic shows the proposed two-storey Amazon facility in the Big Bend area of Burnaby. (Oxford Properties)

Major Amazon distribution warehouse planned for Burnaby

City of Burnaby planning and building director Ed Kozak said the facility will be the "primary" Amazon distribution centre for Western Canada.

By Dustin Godfrey | December 17, 2021 |5:00 am

Canada’s first multi-storey industrial development, in Burnaby’s Riverbend business park, will be occupied by an Amazon distribution warehouse, according to city officials.

In fact, according to director of planning and building Ed Kozak, the facility will be “the primary Amazon distribution facility in Western Canada.”

The facility will be part of the Riverbend business park at Riverbend Drive and Wiggins Street in the Big Bend area. In all, the project will include three components, one of which being the Amazon facility.

Kozak told the planning and development committee last week that the Riverbend business park will include medium- to light-industrial uses. That includes Cellcentric, a fuel-cell fabrication facility jointly owned by Mercedes-Benz and Volvo, and a linen supply facility.

But the Amazon distribution center is “the big one” in the business park, Kozak said, though it’s not entirely clear how big. According to a brochure for the development, the gross floor space, including both the ground and second floors, will add up to over 700,000 square feet. But Kozak said in the committee meeting that the space added up to over 500,000 square feet.

Breaking new ground

The building is four storeys tall, consisting of two stacked warehouses. The development made national news in recent years for this component, as it would be the first building to include stacked warehouse space in Western Canada, if not all of Canada.

(In the planning committee, Kozak said it would be a first in Western Canada, but in 2019, it was described as a first for Canada, and the development’s website still calls it a first in Canada.)

In committee, Kozak appeared excited about the development, calling the multi-storey warehouse building “quite a dramatic change.” While there have been multiple storeys within industrial buildings, the upper floors have always been for office or other light use.

“We should be quite proud of the approvals that you gave to the construction of this project.”

Photo: Oxford Properties

This development, however, will have two stacked warehouse floors—adapting to the limited industrial space in Metro Vancouver—including truck access to the second floor, according to Oxford Properties, the developer of the facility.

“We should be quite proud of the approvals that you gave to the construction of this project,” Kozak said.

Amazon as an employer

However, Coun Pietro Calendino, chair of the planning and development committee, said he wasn’t particularly pleased about the tenant.

“I can’t say that I’m really that pleased that Amazon is taking over, considering the type of employer they are,” Calendino said. “But they are creating a couple thousand jobs in Burnaby.”

Asked by Mayor Mike Hurley how many jobs the facility would be adding, Kozak said it wasn’t entirely clear. The facility would be in a network with other Amazon facilities, including a planned Glenlyon business park facility, for a combined “few thousand jobs,” Koak said.

“But it’s all high-tech—most of the work is done by the robots,” Calendino said.

Amazon has been widely panned for its treatment of workers, with numerous reports of workers peeing in bottles to meet the company’s demands. The company originally denied this, tweeting derisively at a US lawmaker, “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.”

However, the company ultimately admitted that its tweet was incorrect and apologized to the politician, Wisconsin Democrat Mark Pocan.

The company is also infamous for union-busting practices, including hiring the notorious Pinkertons to spy on workers. Critics note that, at the same time, the company’s founder, Jeff Bezos, is either the richest or second-richest person on the planet.

“I can’t say that I’m really that pleased that Amazon is taking over, considering the type of employer they are.”

Photo: Dustin Godfrey / Burnaby Beacon

Most recently, the company has faced scrutiny after six people died at a Kentucky distribution facility when a tornado tore through the building.

Currently, Amazon occupies a large warehouse in New Westminster, on Braid Street near the border with Coquitlam.

The pier

The recent planning committee meeting wasn’t actually to discuss the Amazon distribution facility, but a pier that is planned to be erected in the business park.

As part of the amenities required of Oxford Properties, the development includes a pathway along the Fraser River, which borders the property, to connect with the Fraser Foreshore Park.

Along the path, Oxford will be building a pier for public use. It will go in the place of a former pier that was not for public use and which was taken down years ago. Kozak said the developer was excited about building it and was “chomping at the bit” to get started on it.

The pier, which will be fully paid-for by Oxford, will include a raised platform at the end for the public to get a view of the river.

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Dustin Godfrey

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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