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Oakridge project. Elevated Commons Looking North. (Brook Pooni Associates)
Oakridge project. Elevated Commons Looking North. (Brook Pooni Associates)

Vancouver gears up for fractious debate over future of Oakridge mall Add to ...

A massive redevelopment of Vancouver’s oldest mall – one that will remake a largely single-family neighbourhood in the centre of the city – is expected to take a major step toward reality this week.

Councillors will decide Tuesday on whether to send the project to a public hearing. The planners for Oakridge Centre envision transforming the 12-hectare site into a mixed-use village, with 2,900 new apartment units (290 of them subsidized social housing, 290 market rental), a nine-acre park with a mini-lake that will sit on the roof of the mall and a main-street-style retail strip. The project will also include a community centre, a library, a daycare, a seniors’ centre and more retail and office space.

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“For me as a planner, this is the right location for a significant amount of density,” said Vancouver’s general manager of planning, Brian Jackson, who has recommended the project go to a public hearing. “It’s at a crossroads of the city, one that’s been identified as one of the major retail and commercial hubs.”

The project’s developers, Ivanhoe Cambridge, a Quebec-based credit union, and local developer Westbank Projects Corporation have been asked to put in an unprecedented $148-million in community amenities. That’s significantly up from the $90-million talked about a year ago after the plan was first presented to council. As well, the developers have to pay $46-million in developer levies and $8-million toward the city’s public-art fund.

That bump has meant more social-housing and market-rental units in the project than outlined last year, a bigger community centre, and a larger, more accessible rooftop park.

“The public benefits have been increased dramatically,” said project architect Gregory Henriquez. “I think it’s an exceptional piece of city-making. And if we’re going to save the planet, other parts of the city have to densify besides downtown.”

In an effort to sell the project, the developers have had a public-outreach team camped out at the Oakridge mall most Saturdays over the past year to talk to passersby, reaching more than 30,000 people.

But the $1.5-billion project has also generated dedicated bands of opponents aghast at such a dramatic change to a suburban-feeling neighbourhood in the city. The Oakridge opponents are among the many groups that have formed in recent years, unhappy about the increased development pressure – and the city planning to increase population density – they’re feeling like builders have run out of available room in the downtown.

Those groups will be lining up to object to the new Oakridge plan at the anticipated public hearing beginning in March, said Allan Buium of the Riley-South Cambie community committee, as he once again looked over the Oakridge model on display at the mall last weekend.

“They have not improved anything. And this is too much – we’re on our way to being Metrotown,” said Mr. Buium. Like many, he said one of the main problems is that, even though the project is being sold as a transit-oriented development, the transit line it’s built on is already jammed.

Development consultant Gary Pooni said current overcrowding on the Canada Line and increased traffic congestion were the two main concerns people brought up repeatedly.

Mr. Pooni said the majority of people who have looked at the model and plans are excited about what they see.

“They love having the mall as an actual amenity for people. It becomes a place to do more than just shop. People do think it’s a good place for density. But traffic and the Canada Line – those are the two biggest questions we have.”

That kind of reaction was on display among the non-aligned, casual visitors who dropped by last weekend.

Wan Rahardja, looking over the model with a toddler in his arms, was mostly approving.

“I think it’s quite exciting. This mall is quite limited.”

Senior Penny O’Donnell was just relieved to see that the seniors’ centre had been moved from a second-floor spot to ground level in the new version. She did wonder, though, “what they’ll do with all the people.”

And Richmond resident Brett Tolley, who has seen massive development around the Canada Line in his municipality as well, was gloomily resigned.

“It’s Vancouver in 2014, I guess. It’s typical overdensification, with as many condos as they can jam in. There seems to be no thought to transportation or planning.”

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