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'A big concern': Massive Metrotown development includes 'tiny' studios

Non-market studio units in the four-tower phase 2 of Concord Metrotown are set for a minimum of 323 sq. ft.

Burnaby developers are set to build more apartments with unit sizes local politicians have called “ridiculous” and “not livable.”

The Concord Metrotown development at 4750 Kingsway will bring 188 non-market rental units onto the market – and 58 of its non-market studio units will be between 323 and 346 square feet.

That’s just a bit larger than your everyday school bus.

It’s also more than 75 sq. ft. smaller than the development’s market strata studios, which range from 399 to 528 sq. ft. and 182 sq. ft. smaller than the market rental studios which start at 505 sq. ft.

The development’s eight non-market adaptable studio units are set at 385 sq. ft.

Studio units in strata condominiums have a minimum size of 398.28 sq. ft. (37 square metres) and the minimum size for rental units is 322.93 sq. ft. (30 sq. m.)

‘That’s a ridiculous size’

Coun. Pietro Calendino asked for staff to report on minimum unit sizes for both strata and rentals earlier this year at a planning and development committee on June 1.

“A 330 (square) feet bachelor unit is not a livable place. A 450 (sq. ft.) one-bedroom is a very tiny space,” he said at the June 1 meeting.

“Obviously, we are concerned with affordability, but affordability should come with a degree of livability as well.”

The committee was responding to comments made at a regular council meeting on May 30, regarding a Grosvenor Brentwood development, which includes 36 non-market rental studio units at 328 sq. ft., nine adaptable non-market rental units at 365 sq. ft., and 97 market rental studios between 381 and 394 sq. ft., with strata studios between 443 and 445 sq. ft.

Coun. Alison Gu raised the issue of small unit sizes at council.

Mayor Mike Hurley said: “That’s a ridiculous size to have to live in, in my opinion. … It’s time to revisit that and make sure it doesn’t happen again. That’s tiny.”

“It’s getting ridiculous that you could expect someone to live in 350 or less square feet, so we really have to look at that,” he said.

The director of planning told council that by the time developments are ready for public hearing, “the floor plans are pretty much set.”

Councillors on new development

The NOW asked Hurley and Calendino to follow up on these comments as the Concord Metrotown development approaches public hearing on Nov. 22.

“I think for a single person, it (323-sq. ft. units) may be okay. But it’s very small for a couple, or I think for seniors who may have some mobility issues that they need a little more space to move around,” Calendino told the NOW.

“There may be the need for these small units for, say, for young people or for a student that might be sufficient because they use it mostly for sleeping.”

Calendino and the mayor said they don’t understand why there is a difference in the minimum size of rental units as opposed to strata units.

“I think we should have uniform size whether it’s rental or strata. I think staff may look at it in terms of affordability: more square (feet) is more expensive,” Calendino said.

Calendino said the small unit sizes weren’t a priority, but something to consider over the next year or two.

‘A big concern’

Hurley wants to see more urgency placed on having larger units.

“We have to have apartments or units that people can live a reasonable lifestyle in,” he told the NOW.

“I think that type of size just doesn't allow for that.”

He said he doesn’t know if he’ll support the Concord Metrotown development.

“I’m going to have a real look at it, if it does go through with the public hearing, certainly, it will be sent back in a way that we need to improve the sizes – from my perspective.”

Both the mayor and Calendino supported reviewing a range of required unit sizes for apartments, as a potential alternative to increasing the minimum unit size, as some people, like those who work long hours in film and tech sectors, may prefer the affordability that comes with a smaller size.

For Hurley, affordability isn’t everything.

“It’s a big concern for me that some people’s answer to the affordability piece is just to make units smaller and smaller. And I’m not sure that that’s a very positive step,” Hurley said.

While having smaller units can allow developers to build more desperately needed housing stock, the mayor emphasized people need livability.

“I still believe that at the end of the day, if you’re going to live in an apartment, be it one-bedroom or be it whatever you choose to live in, it should be a livable space. And I question if those are big enough to be actual, livable spaces,” Hurley said.

The Concord Metrotown development, which has a total of 2,186 units proposed over four towers, is up for public hearing on Tuesday, Nov. 22 at 5 p.m.

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