Allan Buium is standing at the southwest corner of Cambie Street and 41st Avenue, envisaging a future in which Oakridge Centre morphs from a shopping mall into a city within a city.
The chairman of a local citizens' group, the Riley Park-South Cambie Community Visions Committee, recalls when the Vancouver mall opened in 1959 and attracted car traffic to its anchor tenant at the time, Woodward's, and other retail stores.
This week, as Mr. Buium watched a steady stream of pedestrians enter and leave the Canada Line's Oakridge station just steps away from the mall, he fretted about the ripple effects of a rezoning application that developers will unveil later this fall that would add more retail space and increase the height of residential towers in an expansion proposal.
The ambitious project by the mall's owner, Ivanhoe Cambridge Inc., and Westbank Projects Corp. could set the tone for a broader reshaping of an area where single-family detached homes still dominate the residential landscape.
The logical location for highrises is near SkyTrain stations, but residents such as Mr. Buium fear that towers at Oakridge Centre will set a precedent that other developers will use to get approval to build multi-unit housing higher than the current six-storey limit on key stretches north of 39th Avenue along Cambie Street.
Cambie Street and 41th Avenue is an intersection of two important arteries for transportation, so great care must be taken in the redevelopment of such a crucial neighbourhood, cautions Patrick Condon, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of British Columbia. The rezoning application will take centre stage as debates intensify in Vancouver over a flurry of redevelopment proposals.
Mr. Buium, 72, acknowledges that change is inevitable, but warns that residents wonder how their quality of life will suffer, given the size and scope of development proposed for the Cambie and Oakridge area – where a typical detached home sold last month for $1.5- to 1.7-million.
"Nobody on our committee is NIMBY, and nobody has said we don't want increased density, but it has to be within reason," the retired high school teacher said. "Our concern is the density and the shadowing on single-family dwellings in the neighbourhood."
Mr. Buium is awaiting details from the developer on what housing options the project would have to make it affordable for future generations, including his four grandchildren.
In 2007, Vancouver City Council adopted a policy statement for Oakridge Centre to guide its growth over the next decade. Ivanhoe Cambridge had jointly owned the mall with OMERS Realty Corp., but after acquiring full control, ramped up its ambitions for the 11-hectare (eight-block) site.
Among the major issues to be examined at city hall will be whether the project should be allowed to exceed what was approved in 2007 for retail, office and residential use.
Gordon Wylie, Ivanhoe Cambridge's vice-president of development, grew up in the neighbourhood. He said residents will have opportunities to speak for or against the application, but urged critics to keep an open mind.
"There are a lot of complexities to this project, and it can't be boiled down to three uses," he said.
The original plan would have expanded Oakridge Centre's retail, service and entertainment component from 619,000 square feet of floor space to 950,000. The allowable residential space under the 2007 policy is 1.2 million square feet, up dramatically from the current 50,400. The policy allows highrises up to 24 storeys, and city planners are now willing to listen to arguments for raising the limit.