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New citizens’ assembly to plan Burnaby’s future

Plus: council approves new affordable homes for seniors, people with disabilities, and mothers with children at risk of homelessness

Burnaby’s current council. City of Burnaby.

It was another busy evening at Burnaby City Council: the group met to discuss new below-market homes for seniors, people with disabilities and single moms, as well as new amenities for the UniverCity community on Burnaby Mountain.

One of the highlights was a presentation by Robin Prest from the SFU Centre for Dialogue, titled “Citizens’ Assembly on Livable and Resilient Neighbourhoods.” As part of a partnership between the Centre for Dialogue and the city, the centre is planning a lottery to select a group of citizens to provide recommendations for the future of Burnaby. Prest said that 10,000 and 15,000 Burnaby residents will be invited to volunteer, after which a committee will select 40-50 residents who reflect the area’s diversity. He added that the selection process will balance demographic criteria to end up with a “truly representative mini-public of Burnaby residents.”

Assembly members will meet for seven Saturdays during the first half of 2024, and will work to “create high-quality recommendations that are actionable by the city,” Prest said.

Part of the presentation regarding the Citizens’ Assembly initiative. City of Burnaby.

Once the first part of the process is complete, the city will respond to these recommendations and decide which ones are actionable. According to Prest, the aim is to augment the official community plan, not to replace it. “We expect to see many under-heard voices show up who might not be present at a regular Burnaby process,” he said. In response to Coun. Alison Gu’s question of whether they would take into account the density of neighbourhoods in Burnaby, the presenter said they would use census data to take density and other factors into account. Coun. Richard Lee asked about the selection criteria for the advisory committee, and Prest responded that the centre will form a non-partisan committee of five to six people with technical expertise, process expertise in citizens’ assemblies, and community expertise to be non-partisan, and impartial arbitrators of editorial decisions.

Burnaby residents will be sent letters in the mail inviting them to volunteer, after which they will be entered into the second round of the selection process. The lottery will be advertised on social media and elsewhere. Coun. Pietro Calendino said that participants need to be aware of some of the challenges Burnaby will face in the future. “We are faced with having to house about 100,000 people in the next 30 years, and obviously the neighbourhoods do not want to change whatsoever, or the residents in some neighbourhoods, and we have to look at densifying in most areas of the city, what I’d like to see in this discussion is that people understand the issues council is faced with in having to house all the new people,” he said.

New amenities for UniverCity

A delegation from UniverCity Community Association shared their perspective on the Parks, Recreation and Culture Commision (PRCC) report about amenities dated Sept. 12. In a presentation, Mario Guisado, president of the UniverCity Community Association said that when the community was first created, SFU and the city agreed to allow community access to SFU amenities, with the exception of childcare, where the plan was for SFU to add capacity specifically for UniverCity. According to Guisado’s presentation, the PRCC report states that UniverCity needs can be met with the excess from SFU amenities. “However, we found that there is insufficient excess capacity at SFU to meet our community’s needs. Also, SFU amenities are not designed for the general public, they’re designed for student use, mostly at specific times during the day. They do not meet the needs of young children, the elderly, newcomers, or non-student residents in the community,” Guisado said.

The delegation proposed a short-term pilot program for a community resource centre operating out of commercial space leased by the city on University High Street. If the pilot is successful, UniverCity is looking to transition to a permanent space. A second issue Guisado mentioned in his presentation was the need for a fenced, off-leash area for pet dogs. The original plan was to allow the use of some of the surrounding trails. The community found the trails to be inaccessible for people with mobility issues, and in close proximity to wildlife. Guisado requested that the PRCC work to create a small, fenced off-leash area for dogs and their owners.

Thirty-eight new affordable homes coming soon

In other business, council discussed rezoning applications for new developments, including a planned non-market housing development that will include 38 units. The new housing development is part of the Newcombe Community Plan to create non-market homes for lower-income residents. The new homes will be specifically for people with disabilities, seniors and women with children who are at risk of homelessness.

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