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Oakridge residents wary of mall redevelopment’s scale

Architect argues project density must be ‘future proof’
oakridge model
The revised design for the Oakridge Centre re-development was revealed at an open house Thursday evening at the former Zellers site in the mall. A second open house will be held this Saturday.

Tower heights and density topped the concerns of people the Courier spoke to Thursday evening at the first of two open houses revealing revised plans for the proposed Oakridge Centre redevelopment.

Henriquez Partners Architects and Stantec applied to amend the site’s zoning on behalf of Oakridge Centre owner Ivanhoe Cambridge and Westbank Development in November 2012.

The updated proposal expands the size of the civic centre from 45,000 to 70,000 square feet. It still features 13 towers, although the positions of some have shifted. They range from 17 to 45 storeys. In June, council endorsed heights up to 45 storeys, as well as the general level of density for the project.

Overall, the redevelopment would double the size of the mall to 1.4 million square feet, create more than 2,900 residential units, including 280 social housing units, as well as 300,000 square feet of new office space.  The civic centre would feature a community centre, library, seniors centre and childcare space. A nine-acre open space is planned for the mall’s roof.

Oakridge Centre was built in 1956 and renovated in the mid-1980s, but the 28-acre site is considered underdeveloped. It’s located in the centre of Vancouver on main transportation routes and, with the introduction of Canada Line, is regarded as ideal for densification.

But the degree of densification being considered doesn’t sit well with Narv Gill, who’s lived in the neighbourhood for 10 years. He has two children aged two and five. Gill and his wife are “hesitant and a little bit worried about the project.”

“We’re a little concerned about the potential for this [number of] people, this large a development,” he said, speculating it might push the limits of transit and schools to handle the increased population.

Darlene Goldie described the proposal as “overwhelming.” She’s lived in the Oakridge area for 12 years.

“We expect change, we embrace change, but this is an extreme change for this part of the city,” Goldie said while checking out design boards. “How will [they] move people on the roadways or on transit. It’s a big ‘how’ question.”

She’s not convinced the Canada Line can absorb a jump in passenger numbers. Goldie takes the train daily, but avoids rush-hour travel due to what she says are sardine-like conditions.

“The amenities are great. The redesign concept — making it a village — is fantastic,” she added. “My main issue is with the capacity.”

Goldie also thinks tower heights are too high, particularly the tallest one proposed. She’d prefer its height be cut by at least a third.

Robert Martin, who’s lived two blocks from Oakridge for almost 50 years, worries about shadows cast by the towers during different times of the year. He insists proposed heights are out of proportion with the neighbourhood and should be capped at 12 to 18 storeys.

“It’s like a mini Chicago right in the middle of a residential area,” he said. “I’m not against redevelopment, I’m against the excessive redevelopment they’re proposing. I think it’s all about money.”

Gunther Wenzel said he’s happy about amenities outlined in the project, but he too objects to the proposed height and density.

“It’s a developer’s dream to do this like Shanghai or Hong Kong,” he said.

Anne Diano, a resident of the Oakridge area for 45 years, was more uncertain about the project’s impact.

“I think it’s massive and I think it’s going to change the whole area — whether it’s for the better or worse, I don’t know,” she said, while echoing the concerns about the Canada Line’s ability to handle more travellers.

TransLink, in consultation with the city, is completing an assessment of Canada Line’s capacity to handle increased growth along the corridor. An initial review, according to information provided at the open house, indicates potential to increase the Canada Line capacity from 6,500 persons per hour per direction today to 15,000 persons per hour per direction.

David Chong, who owns a townhouse near the mall said while it’s a “great” project with “a great community set-up,” he’s worried his property value will drop if the housing supply is increased through the condo towers. He’s considering moving to Surrey.

Gregory Henriquez, managing partner at Henriquez Partners Architects, said the firm worked hard to come up with a solution that minimizes shadowing from the towers.

“The density is really important,” added Henriquez who grew up near the mall. “We only have one chance to re-do Oakridge. It has to be future proof.”

Henriquez believes a vocal minority opposes the project, while many others “are excited about the rebirth of Oakridge,” particularly due to the community amenities being offered, the opportunity to age in place and all the new services that will be available on site.

“Change is hardest on neighbourhoods where there’s been little change,” he said. “I’ve heard people [at the open house] say very positive things. I’m very proud of this. I think we’ve worked hard to create something really beautiful.”

Henriquez calls the development one of the more meaningful and important projects he’s worked on.

“You only build it once and it has to stand the test of time,” he said. “People have every right to be concerned if it’s their neighbourhood, but I believe this is the appropriate amount of height and density.”

A second open house runs from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. in the former Zellers store at Oakridge Centre, Oct. 5.