Goodbye bedroom community? Coquitlam mulls changes to Austin Heights and Maillardville

Construction is seen at the corner of Austin Avenue and Nelson street on Sept. 15, 2022. City of Coquitlam staff are concerned that Austin Heights and Maillardville are losing commercial real estate space as redevelopment hits the neighbourhoods. photo Marissa Tiel

The City of Coquitlam has a plan to make itself less of a bedroom community.

Council recently approved the first reading of a zoning bylaw amendment that would encourage more commercial real estate space in both Austin Heights and Maillardville. The proposed changes are now on their way to a public hearing set for Sept. 26.

The city’s strategy for the historic neighbourhoods is dual-pronged.

The first prong involves setting minimum measurements for commercial spaces during redevelopment, while the second includes allowing the option to incorporate commercial use in medium-density developments without the need for rezoning.

The idea came, at least in part, from information collected during the ongoing creation of a draft economic strategy, said Andrew Merrill, director of development services for the City of Coquitlam.

“Some of its early directions are really indicating the city needs to significantly increase the amount of commercial space in order to provide for not just local business opportunities, but more local jobs,” he said.

More than 75 per cent of people who live in Coquitlam commute outside the city for work, according to 2016 census data, the most recent available. That’s much higher than the averages provincially and for the Greater Vancouver area.

The commercial building at 1015 Austin Avenue is slated to make way for an independent senior living development. While the new development is expected to include commercial space, it will be a fraction of what is there now. photo Marissa Tiel

How to get more residents to work in the city? Add more commercial space.

Commercial use takes up just six percent of the city’s land supply, stated a staff report to council.

While the current neighbourhood plans for Austin Heights and Maillardville encourage commercial use at the street level, there is no minimum requirement.

“So if we can increase the amount of commercial space, that provides more opportunity for people to work closer to where they live,” says Merrill.

More recent policy documents like the neighbourhood plan for Burquitlam Lougheed and the City Centre area plan have rules for the minimum amount of commercial space required in new developments.

This is an important addition to the Maillardville and Austin Heights neighbourhood plans as the area sees an increased interest from developers. The neighbourhoods are losing established commercial real estate to redevelopment.

Merrill offered the example of a new independent senior living complex in Austin Heights. While council was supportive of the project—there is a need for seniors housing— there is a loss of commercial space.

The proposed 20-storey tower at 1015 Austin Avenue will have commercial space on the ground floor. But the proposed 232 square metres is a far cry from the 1,881 square metres of dedicated commercial space in the current building at that address. The office building, which houses a law firm and a number of medical businesses is set for demolition to allow for the new development.

Staff are proposing instituting a minimum commercial space requirement in areas zoned community commercial.

The second part of the proposed changes is to allow the option of commercial use in residential builds that take place in medium-density zones.

Mixed-use developments are currently allowed in C-1 local commercial, C-5 community commercial, C-7 high-density commercial and RM-5 and RM-6 high-density apartment, but not in RM-3 or RM-4 medium density apartment zones.

Merrill says the city has received “a couple” of requests from developers to include a small store or coffee shop in their medium-density developments.

“We would have to do a special CD zoning to allow for that because the standards don’t,” he says. “That’s not allowed.”

However, under the proposed bylaw amendment, it would be. Developers wouldn’t need to apply for rezoning, they could just include the commercial space.

The amendments would start a shift toward preserving commercial land in Austin Heights and Maillardville, a staff report stated.

“The provision of a balanced amount of employment-generating space and commercial services through both replacement and addition of new space is a key civic and urban development goal,” according to the report. “Achieving this will support reduced commuting, minimize carbon emissions, and support local, vibrant neighbourhoods that are complete communities.”

The public hearing for the proposed bylaw amendments is set for Sept. 26.

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