September 22, 2005

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Vibrant community takes shape on Burnaby Mountain

For many people, our greatest achievement so far is The Cornerstone, and the adjacent Town Square, which bring town and gown together.
By Michael Geller

It has been almost five years since I last wrote to you in Simon Fraser University News to report on our plans for the new residential community at SFU. Now that the first phase of the Highlands neighbourhood is nearing completion, and the first charter residents have moved in, it is timely to review some of our accomplishments over the past five years, and share our future plans.

When I last wrote, I set out our aspirations for the new development:

• This new community will change SFU from essentially a commuter campus to a more complete community, providing a wide range of housing choices for faculty, staff, students and others seeking a unique living environment;

• It will result in a new main street lined with shops, restaurants and a pub, along with services and facilities serving residents and those on campus;

• Over time it will create an endowment fund supporting a wide range of university activities, including additional student housing.

At the time, I was concerned with criticism being expressed about our plans, and invited more input from the university community on a variety of matters. The input received was valuable. It helped formulate a policy on the selection of retail tenants that encouraged individually owned businesses, rather than national and international chains.

It also convinced us that we should pursue an architectural character that was more contemporary, and respectful of the university's design, rather than a Whistleresque aesthetic.

We were also encouraged to change the zoning bylaw to allow legalized secondary suites in the apartment and townhouse developments and to pursue a variety of transportation options. We were also directed to incorporate more affordable faculty and staff housing within the community.

Today, 585 townhouses and apartments have been completed, and an additional 465 homes are under construction. These include Verdant, the first non-market housing to be targeted to SFU faculty and staff families with children. This development, located near the proposed neighbourhood park and elementary school site, will include more affordable stacked townhouses designed around a central courtyard.

It will also include a small childcare facility, to complement the main SFU childcare centre. Most homes will be available for purchase at a price 15 per cent to 20 per cent below that of comparable market housing.

To keep the housing affordable over time, there will be resale controls in place that limit price appreciation to that of the adjacent developments.

Other developments under construction include Serenity, a low-rise townhouse development by Polygon and Aurora and Novo Two, mid-rise apartment buildings by Polygon and Intergulf Developments respectively. All three of these developments are now for sale. There are also a limited number of apartments for sale in One University Crescent. This attractive terraced development does not have any internal corridors. As a result, the suites are more house-like compared to traditional apartments.

For many people, our greatest achievement so far is The Cornerstone, and the adjacent Town Square, which bring town and gown together. While many questioned the decision to select Renaissance Coffee over a more established international name, I have no regrets about our choice. Similarly, I am pleased to see a number of SFU related businesses in operation, including Nature's Garden Organic Deli, founded by two alumni; Himalayan Peak; and Eyes in Motion, the optician along Cornerstone Mews, which formerly operated from a day table in the AQ.

While many SFU faculty and staff have discovered the wide range of goods and services offered by our Cornerstone merchants, unfortunately many have not. This is not surprising, since many of the businesses are new and we are not yet used to dropping off dry cleaning, or expecting to find quality meats and seafood, on campus. Similarly, we may not expect organic produce and an excellent salad bar in the Mountainview Market; or the wide variety of inexpensive home and office supplies at Buck ‘n a Bit, our dollar store. I hope you will get into the habit of visiting the Himalayan Peak for dinner, and picking up fresh flowers on your way home. Or visiting the hair salon, the gallery, the post office, and other services offered at The Cornerstone.

There are other things happening at UniverCity that are not quite so visible. For example, the businesses and offices in The Cornerstone are heated and cooled by a geothermal energy source. This, combined with its other environmental features, (including the first waterless urinals in Burnaby), have earned the building three environmental awards from the city of Burnaby, B.C. Hydro, and the Urban Development Institute. Second, the Trust is finalizing negotiations with Translink on the introduction of the first community transit pass program in Canada, which will hopefully be under way in 2006. This will complement the co-operative car-sharing program now in place that university faculty and staff can join. Third, we will soon be installing our first piece of public art, which was selected in a student led competition, organized by the dialogue program, under the direction of Mark Winston.

Finally, we are continuing discussions with the province and school district regarding the timing of our first elementary school to be built within the east academic annex.

Some activities are more visible, such as the removal of the pile of earth along the north side of University High Street. This earth was moved to this location during the initial university construction 40 years ago. It is being removed, so that University Crescent can be extended to High Street. A portion of this earth has been placed outside the Ring Road, at the most easterly end of the community, to be restored as part of the Burnaby Mountain conservation area,

As we look to the future, the Trust is now preparing plans for the area across from The Cornerstone. Subject to a satisfactory review and approvals from the university community and the city of Burnaby, this area could be developed with multi-level parking structures, surrounded by new retail uses at grade, and housing and offices above.

The lot B surface parking lots, east of Tower Road, can then be developed as our next neighbourhood, University Slopes. Planning for this neighbourhood is getting under way and various options will be ready for display by early 2006.

Assuming the plans are approved, up to 2800 homes, along with additional commercial and community space, will be completed in the Highlands and Slopes neighbourhoods, during the next five to seven years.

As I noted in my earlier article, from the onset, it was determined that this community should be a model development that would reflect positively on the university and ultimately be worthy of international acclaim.

To this end, we have developed the first green building guidelines for a comprehensively planned community in Canada; we have developed an innovative and award winning storm water management plan; we have been recognized for our efforts in creating a safe and healthy community by David Suzuki, and more recently, the Heart and Stroke Foundation; and we were recognized by AUREO, the association for university real estate officials for our outstanding achievements.

While we are proud of this recognition, the ultimate test is whether the university community and our residents are pleased with the community we are creating. I hope you will let us know. I can be reached at

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