"I'm going to change that recommendation and I'm going to put forward a motion that reads that 'the location of the current City Hall campus at Deer Lake be selected as the site for Burnaby City Hall.'"
That's how Mayor of Burnaby Mike Hurley began the discussion, in a Council meeting on Monday, about the staff recommendation to approve the Civic Square site currently occupied by the Metrotown branch of the Burnaby Public Library as the location for the new City Hall building.
"I probably met with 50 different people on this, and it was always very clear that the site most people wanted was the site where we're on right now," Mayor Hurley continued. "I don't think there's any need to go further. We know we need a new City Hall due to the complexities of [the current building], so I think it's time to just get on with the work and start planning."
This unexpected turn of events brings a quick end to the backlash the City received after a staff report was published last week recommending that the Civic Square be approved as the site for the new City Hall building. It was chosen among three proposed sites, after the City conducted public engagement between May 31 and July 30 to identify which of the three the public preferred.
All three sites were in the area immediately surrounding the Metropolis at Metrotown shopping centre, with the remaining two being Bonsor Park and the vacant Firefighter's Public House.
The three options for Burnaby's new City Hall building. (City of Burnaby)
Staff recommended the Civic Square site because it was the top option among 4,057 survey respondents, receiving 46% of the vote. The option that received the second-most selections, however, was "none of the above," at 33% — an indicator that now perhaps reads as foreshadowing.
All three sites were in the Metrotown neighbourhood of Burnaby because the City has identified the neighbourhood as Burnaby's "downtown."
Initially, the City did give some consideration to redeveloping the current City Hall campus, located on 4949 Canada Way, but did not bring forth the site as a real option because redeveloping the current space would require the construction of a temporary City Hall during, ballooning the cost. The City had also not identified what it would do with the current site if City Hall was relocated.
One of the bigger concerns regarding the Civic Square site was the impact the project would have on the library.
"For me, Civic Square is not an adequate site because of the ways our libraries would be impacted," said Councillor Alison Gu. "With our construction timelines of community centres, there could potentially be, at one point in time, three of our four libraries entirely out of commission."
Gu also noted that the library at the Civic Square site, known as the Bob Prittie Metrotown Library, has undergone — and continues to undergo — renovations, which were already disruptive.
"I think it is the right move to keep Burnaby City Hall where it is," she added. " I think utilizing some of the empty space we have currently to limit the cost of relocating staff is what I would like to see."
All other councillors spoke in support of Mayor Hurley's motion and redeveloping the current City Hall.
The motivation to build a new City Hall came from the discovery that the existing building was in "pretty bad shape," as Mayor Hurley describes it, and would require costly renovations to meet seismic and sustainability standards. Staff are also currently spread out across multiple buildings, which were added as the city grew.
"Nobody here is looking forward to, or even wants, a new building," Hurley said. "This is forced upon us right now and it's something we have to deal with."
According to a public consultation summary report the City published, although the Civic Square was the top-ranked option, it was also the site that received the most opposition. Aside from selecting an option, respondents of the survey were also given the chance to submit written comments, and the Civic Square site received 160 comments in opposition (compared to 123 in support), while the Bonsor site received 109 and the Firefighter's Public House site received 42.
Those who submitted written comments also heavily favoured rebuilding a new City Hall at the current site (631 comments) or were opposed to relocating City Hall to Metrotown (482 comments).
City staff will now work on a report regarding the redevelopment of the current building. The timeline and design has not been finalized, but one thing Mayor Hurley has already made clear is that the new City Hall will not be a 30-storey high-rise, as some were worried about.
"Absolutely not," he said, regarding the possibility. "This would be a campus-type site."
Hurley also addressed the concerns about the cost of the project, which was projected to be as much as $838M, saying that a chunk of that estimate included programming of events for new public amenity spaces, and that sticking with a "basic City Hall" would reduce that cost. He also emphasized the long-term nature of the project.
"It's a 100 year investment for our residents and that's what we have to remember."