Opposition to the various pieces of new legislation the provincial government introduced last fall is continuing to sprout up across British Columbia, but the opposition coming from Burnaby is a bit different.

While most of other opposition is generally coming from cities and neighbourhoods that are "behind" where the Province wants things to be, the City of Burnaby believes that it is well ahead, specifically on the transit-oriented development front.

"In my mind, Brentwood and a couple of other areas in our city have done more than enough," said Mayor Mike Hurley during last week's council meeting.

Hurley's comments came ahead of council discussing a petition that was submitted by Save Brentwood Park, a group of residents "who are concerned about the future of our community." The group's concerns, as detailed in a letter to council earlier this year, are the potential expansion of developer Shape Properties' plans for The Amazing Brentwood and the province's transit-oriented development legislation, also known as Bill 47.

Save Brentwood Park submitted a petition signed by 356 Brentwood residents in April asking the City to seek out an exemption for Brentwood Town Centre Station, the Millennium Line SkyTrain station.

"Of the 104 transit-oriented-rings identified by Bill 47, we believe each is different, and deserves bespoke application of the legislation, that take into account local differences which are key to a failed town centre and a healthy one," said Save Brentwood Acting Chairperson Edward Pereira in a letter to council submitting the petition. "The Brentwood Town Centre TODA is an outlier among BC's sample set of 104 rings, in that the Town Centre leads the way in exceeding all of Burnaby's population goals and population density goals for 2050 and beyond."

Specifically, Save Brentwood Park is seeking an exemption for "1/4 of the Brentwood Town Centre TODA ring," referring to the northeastern corner of the transit-oriented development area, which includes a portion of the group's namesake Brentwood Park.

The transit-oriented development area around Brentwood Town Centre Station in Burnaby.The transit-oriented development area around Brentwood Town Centre Station in Burnaby.(Province of British Columbia)

On the surface, the gripe appears akin to those of numerous other neighbourhood groups across Metro Vancouver that have been labeled as "NIMBYs," and perhaps there is a little bit of that here, but the City of Burnaby also has some justifiable reasons to believe it has already done enough transit-oriented development in the Brentwood area.

There are currently more master plan projects in the area immediately surrounding Brentwood Town Centre Station than perhaps any other SkyTrain Station in Metro Vancouver. Those master plan projects include Brentwood West by Bosa Development, Buchanan West initiated by First Capital Asset Management, Solo District by Appia Group, South Yards by Anthem Properties, Brentwood Block by Grosvenor, Concord Brentwood by Concord Pacific, and — of course — The Amazing Brentwood by Shape Properties, built around the shopping centre at the heart of the neighbourhood.

All of these master plan communities include multiple high-rises and all of them are within the Brentwood Town Centre TOD area. Few other SkyTrain stations in Metro Vancouver come close, besides perhaps Surrey Central Station and King George Station in Surrey, and Oakridge-41st Avenue Station in Vancouver. At a press conference in October, Mayor of Vancouver Ken Sim even called Burnaby a "role model" for Vancouver when it comes to transit-oriented development.

At last week's council meeting, Mayor Hurley alluded to all of the various ongoing development projects around Brentwood and said that he supports Save Brentwood Park's petition, calling the Province's various legislative changes "a great over-reach."

"There is a fatigue in terms of how much one area can take in terms of additional density," added Councillor Sav Dhaliwal, who also voiced support for the petition. He added that Burnaby and the Brentwood area can still continue to densify Brentwood with the small-scale multi-unit housing — multiplexes — that the Province also wants to see.

Dhaliwal than introduced a motion asking City staff to explore ways the City can potentially seek out the desired exemption, with support from several other councillors. However, it seems like the City will not get far.

The Province Responds

Reached for comment this week by STOREYS, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure provided a clear-cut response when asked about Burnaby seeking an exemption.

"The Province is not considering exemptions to the TOA designations across BC that were established last year," the Ministry said. "The purpose of the legislation and the TOA designations is to ensure that appropriate densities are being achieved on all eligible properties that are zoned for residential purposes adjacent to high quality transit nodes like Brentwood Station."

The Ministry did not explain why it would not be considering exemptions, but even the consideration of Burnaby's petition for an exemption would likely open the door for numerous other cities to follow suit and seek out exemptions of their own.

The Ministry also said that Bill 47 is meant to guide land-use planning over the long-term and that new development within the TOD areas will be happening gradually over a number of years. It also emphasized the importance of adding housing around SkyTrain stations, whether it be for residents commuting to school or work or for seniors who need alternatives to driving.

The Ministry also pointed out that Bill 47 is not mandating that entire transit-oriented areas have to rise to the minimum heights and densities it has prescribed.

"In TOAs, developers are not required to build to the minimum density requirements," said the Ministry. "This legislation is about saying that local governments can't deny a project based on height and density if it's in the standards set in TOA legislation. TOA legislation provides an 'envelope' for development with an allowable range of densities and heights that can be achieved within a given TOA."

As the Province announced previously, local governments are expected to have designated TOD area bylaws by June 30, 2024.