Metrotown resident Jordan Malcolm stands in front of the trees of Kathleen Ave. Srushti Gangdev / Burnaby Beacon

Metrotown resident wants rental project moved to protect Kathleen Forest

Metrotown resident Jordan Malcolm wants a rental development at Kathleen Ave and Kemp St moved to protect a patch of urban forest known as Kathleen Forest.

By Srushti Gangdev | September 13, 2021 |5:00 am

Jordan Malcolm says he understands the need for more rental units in the quickly densifying Metrotown neighbourhood.

But he’s not sure why Bosa Properties feels they need to chop down one of the area’s last remaining pockets of urban forest to do so, when they’re already sitting on a large lot that’s being used as a residential sales centre for the new Central Park House development.

Kathleen Forest, as it’s known colloquially by neighbours, sits on the site of another proposed Bosa development at Kathleen Ave and Kemp St—a 34-storey rental development with at least 94 ‘affordable’ units, making up about 30% of all 324 units in the building.

At the moment, however, it’s just a tiny pocket of greenery in the bustling Metrotown landscape. Just steps away from Willingdon Ave and Kingsway, you might not believe it’s there if you haven’t seen it with your own eyes.

A network of roots

Decades-old trees are clustered between World War I era houses slated to be torn down on the quiet cul-de-sac—but Malcolm told the Beacon the true magic of Kathleen Forest doesn’t stretch skyward with the treetops, but rather deep into the earth.

“We as humans don’t see what’s below the ground. But beneath the forest, and especially in a small urban forest, there’s actually 100 times more biodiversity in a small forest than a large forest. Beneath one footstep in a forest is upwards of 100-300 miles of these mycelial connections, which are responsible for allowing things to exist the way they do. They help transfer nutrients and water between plants and trees,” Malcolm said at a small rally against the development Friday.

“They want to excavate 100ft down, which will effectively damage the mycelial connection and they will no longer be there. And it will affect everything else in the area … because the mycelium doesn’t just go down, it goes across.”

He said the forest is an important local ecosystem for fauna too, with hummingbirds and bumblebees being some of the living things that call it home. And during the pandemic, he said it’s become clear that the city’s residents deserve as much greenery as possible for the benefits to their mental health.

“For a lot of people in this area, if this was to be removed, it’s as if we’re removing part of the heritage of this place. It’s another form of gentrification. It’s not just displacing low income people to demovictions to bring in these towers, but also by destroying the sensitive ecological areas,” Malcolm said.

“And it’s damaging people’s mental health in the process. I can’t imagine what this place will look like 10 years from now, if everything goes through the way they plan on it. There’s going to be no trees left. And if there is any, it’ll all be shaded right into the large towers.”

The downtown plan

Kathleen Forest sits right in the epicentre of a host of new high-rise developments by Bosa and Anthem Properties, all part of the city’s Metrotown Downtown Plan. A walk through the neighbourhood in any direction shows just how many of the neighbourhood’s low-income and low-rise buildings are either slated to be torn down, or already have been.

Malcolm’s building, a couple of blocks away, will be one of them in a matter of years.

“Firstly, they displace all the low-income people in those buildings, and then they are not allowing social housing units to be built in the luxury towers. So there’s no possible chance for those people to come back,” he said.

“I feel very much as if it’s creating more marginalization. Once this tower is built, it’s going to be such a stark contrast between the people across the street and the people who live on the side of the street that I do. I live in a low-rise building, 3 storeys, and the other buildings are the same. Most people I know are low-income. And as I already mentioned, the buildings that they’d recently demolished—those are all low-income people that were demovicted.”

A matter of policy

Former residents of 5977 Wilson Ave, which was demolished to make way for the new Central Park House development, will have first right of refusal at their old rental rates once the new rental building at the site of Kathleen Forest is completed.

Burnaby’s Rental Use Zoning Policy requires developers to reserve at least 20% of units in a new building for rentals, along with keeping rates “affordable”—or 20% below the median market rate for the area. That was $1,250 in October 2020 for the Central Park/Metrotown Area, according to data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

In lieu of reserving units at the Wilson Ave property for rentals, Bosa proposed the 324-unit rental property at Kathleen Ave instead.

But even the rental development has come under criticism, including from city councillor Colleen Jordan.

Jordan said in an October 2020 council meeting that she was concerned about the “really awful” design of the building, which originally didn’t include balconies or any outdoor space.

Parts of the building were redesigned as a result.

Ultimately, Jordan and her colleague Dan Johnston still voted against the project for exceeding density guidelines.

Alternatives

Malcolm said the city has agreed to protect part of the area’s greenery, on the side of Kathleen Ave opposite the future rental development.

But instead of cutting down any of the forest—which include huge fruit trees, remnants of the orchards grown by the Wilson farm and from whom the Old Orchard shopping centre gets its name—he’d like to see some of the other plots of land in the same block utilized for the new development instead.

Bosa bought a parking lot at the corner of Willingdon and Kingsway a couple of years ago to turn into their sales centre for Central Park House, for instance. Malcolm said the future building could go there without sacrificing any of Kathleen Forest.

There’s also an empty city-owned lot just at the end of the block that he said would be a good candidate.

Independent Burnaby South candidate in the federal election Martin Kendell agreed.

“I think there’s a balance when it comes to old growth forests like this and building buildings. When it comes to this building here, the federal government has put up a $100 million loan for it. Why can’t they put down some conditions for that? If one of the conditions is, ‘let’s negotiate in good faith with the city and the private owners and move it over there and save this forest’—I think that’s something completely reasonable,” Kendell said.

“As far as the densification—I do acknowledge that we’re next to the SkyTrain, yes, that does have to happen. This is the only way that we’re going to build supply that’s going to help people get into homes. With that being said, I think there’s a responsible way to do this.”

Burnaby Beacon has reached out to Bosa Properties and Jordan for comment.

Srushti Gangdev

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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