The tower in the yellow at centre-left is a proposed 66-storey office and residential tower that would include upwards of 600 units of housing. (Anthem Metro King Hazel Holdings Ltd)

Proposed 66-storey tower in Burnaby plagued by technical difficulties

A Metrotown rezoning ran into multiple technical difficulties in its public hearing process and in a council vote a month later

By Dustin Godfrey | October 5, 2021 |5:00 am

The rezoning process for a group of Kingsway properties in the Metrotown area appears to be nothing short of cursed.

Between late July and early September, the rezoning application for eight lots in the 4600 blocks of Kingsway and Hazel Street has seen more than its share of technical difficulties. The most significant issue, however, has been a case of reportedly over 200 late public hearing notifications.

The applicant, Anthem Metro King Hazel Holdings, is looking to build a high-density mixed-use on an oblong space, taking up five lots on Hazel and three on Kingsway.

In all, the proposed 66-storey highrise would include a total of 645 residential units, including 372 market strata units, 200 market rentals, and 73 non-market rentals.

The residential units would be situated above a nine-storey commercial component, including seven storeys of office space and a two-storey podium for retail, restaurants, and cafes.

The proposed density for the development is 11.64 floor-area ratio (FAR) out of a total allowable density of 14.3 FAR. The allowable density includes 2.2 FAR for the rental zoning and another 1.1 FAR in offset density for further rental housing units.

Trouble with the mail

The proposal went to an initial public hearing on July 27, but residents of a nearby tower say they didn’t get the mail notification for the public hearing until about two weeks later. Roland Wen, a nearby resident, said a total of over 200 people didn’t get the notification until Aug 10.

“This late [mail] notification greatly reduces the number of opposition speakers at public hearings,” Wen said in an email to Burnaby Beacon.

“I sent an inquiry to the city office. The city clerk replied that the mail notices were sent to Canada Post on July 9, and the city office has no control. If the clerk was telling the truth, it took 33 days for Canada Post to mail the notice in the same city.”

He added that he contacted Canada Post and was told there was no tracking information on that mail.

“The truth of the mail delay will never be known to the public,” Wen said, adding that he emailed city councillors to ask “how they would address the issue that local residents didn’t get the opportunity to express themselves.”

“I got no response.”

Technical difficulties

In an email statement to Burnaby Beacon, city spokesperson Chris Bryan said the city believed that “all public hearing requirements were met, including letter mail-out, ads in the paper, and signs on-site.”

“The notices were delivered to Canada Post on Friday, July 9, 2021. We have reached out to Canada Post and they have advised the City of Burnaby that there were no anomalies with the delivery of the notices,” Bryan said.

Wen, however, was skeptical in a follow-up email to the Beacon.

“How naive are we to believe the city’s saying that Canada Post takes 33 days to deliver mail in the same city?” he said.

He added that it brings up questions about public money wasted on late mail.

In his earlier email to the Beacon, Wen suggested the residents were considering legal action on the issue.

The reports of late notifications aren’t the only troubles the rezoning has faced.

While it was originally set for a public hearing on July 27, the city ran into technical issues and had to postpone the hearing until Aug 3. And at the Aug 30 council meeting, as Coun. Colleen Jordan laid out her concerns about the proposal, the city hit yet more technical issues.

The remainder of that meeting was, then, pushed back to a special council meeting on Sept 1.

Wen said he opposed the project because the tower would block sunlight for nearby residents and the increase in traffic from the towers.

The shadow of the tower was a common theme among those who wrote in to oppose the proposal, as was the issue of traffic.

A campaign in favour

There appears to have been an organized campaign in favour of the development, as well. Of the 49 written submissions for the public hearing, a total of 34 were in favour of the development, 19 were opposed, and one had concerns about parking requirements.

And of those writing in favour, many bore word-for-word the same language—with a bit of personalization.

“I live in the community of ______ and I think this part of Kingsway needs to be revitalized. There are aging buildings on the proposed site, and now that Cactus Club has moved across the street, the empty spaces are under-utilized,” read some of the submissions in favour (with the blank filled in with the proponent’s neighbourhood or address).

“Adding new housing—including townhomes, condos, rental units, and affordable housing—will revitalize the block and bring a thriving community together.”

“High rent prices at this number of units … will also contribute to pulling up the CMHC median rent, and then that further impacts non-market rentals, as well.”

Photo: Dustin Godfrey / Burnaby Beacon

Others wrote entirely original notes in favour of the project.

Lois Reid said she felt qualified to speak about living in a construction zone, having lived next to the Station Square development for eight years of construction.

“People naturally worry about the possibility of congestion from new towers, but the reality has not been what people expected or feared. We have been surprised how little life has been disturbed by this increase in population,” Reid wrote.

Among the 19 letters against the project, one claimed to speak for 18 units in her building. Another letter-writer, Harb Doad, a former strata president at one of the buildings said he spoke for the 223 residents of his building.

A tight vote in council

On Sept 1, council voted 5-4 in favour of second hearing of the proposal, with councillors Alison Gu (Burnaby Citizens Association), Dan Johnston (independent), Colleen Jordan (independent), and James Wang (BCA) opposed.

The item saw significant debate in council, with Jordan and Johnston specifically pointing to the density.

The independent duo noted the maximum density in the Metrotown downtown plan calls for a maximum of 11 FAR.

Director of planning and development Ed Kozak noted that’s the maximum without any modifications, while the rental zoning and a density offset add density allotments.

“I … voted to support the rental zoning and the affordability zoning, but it’s one thing to see numbers on a page that say 1.1 FAR, 2.2 FAR, those kinds of things, and then [another thing to] see what it turns out to be when it’s actually a building,” Jordan said.

“I remember people at this table, when we did the Metrotown plan, were saying 6 FAR was too much, and now we’re more than double that potential.”

Jordan also expressed concerns about the notices not reaching many nearby residents.

In a relatively rare instance, Wang broke away from the Hurley-BCA majority on council, saying he also had concerns about the issue of notifications and the height of the building.

Gu similarly broke from the ranks of her slate, saying she was concerned about the effects of a luxury tower on affordability in the area.

The city’s definition of “affordable” housing in its rental-use zoning policy is 20% below Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s median rents for the neighbourhood.

“High rent prices at this number of units … will also contribute to pulling up the CMHC median rent, and then that further impacts non-market rentals, as well,” Gu said.

“For the length of construction of such a high tower and the tradeoffs of that, I’m concerned that the benefits of this project don’t necessarily outweigh the cons.”

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Dustin Godfrey

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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