A proposed development that would transform the face of Abbotsford’s city centre received a unanimous endorsement from council Monday.
Approval of rezoning for a five-acre site on the north side of South Fraser Way near Sevenoaks Shopping Centre should pave the way for the eventual construction of a series of large residential towers with more than 879 housing units of housing.
The first phase of construction would see twin 14-storey towers built to house up to 300 seniors in a facility managed by Mennonite Benevolent Society – the operator of Menno Place. Subsequent phases of development would see the construction of a nearby 30-storey tower, along with hundreds more rental apartment units available to the general public. The largest of the towers would also include significant commercial space.
The project would be built on a site currently occupied by Red Robin and 16 single-family lots, just northeast of the Bourquin Crescent/South Fraser Way intersection and adjacent to, but not including, a property currently occupied by a McDonalds.
The developer behind the project is Fred and Ella Strumpski’s Emco Developments. The Strumpskis have a long history of development in Abbotsford and involvement with Menno Place.
The proposal drew applause from councillors, who said the project will act as a catalyst for the city’s goal of establishing a denser, more walkable core.
Coun. Sandy Blue called it a “turning point” for the area, while Coun. Dave Loewen said it met the goals set out in the city’s official community plan, city centre neighbourhood plan and affordable housing strategy.
“It’s what we want for this part of our city,” he said.
Officials with Menno Place told council that the project would help address their organization’s growing waitlist, and the ongoing need for housing among seniors in Abbotsford.
“With the village located in central Abbotsford, seniors will have opportunity for health walks to Sevenoaks mall, to Mill Lake and to nearby restaurants and other public services,” Arnie Friesen, the chair of Menno Place, told council.
Architect Jason Letkeman said the project was designed with the city’s larger plans for the area in mind.
“The vision of this application is also to set an architectural landscape standard and precedent for the city centre and future development.”
To qualify for density bonuses that allow for larger buildings, covenants on 519 apartments will bar them from becoming strata units. That is meant to boost Abbotsford’s limited supply of rental housing.
But with 14 houses set for demolition as a result of the project, council also heard about the housing challenges set to face the renters of at least two of the 14 homes. Those homes had been rented at below-market rates, and although a property management company has offered to help occupants relocate – and the developer has promised extra money to help them do so – Abbotsford’s exceedingly tight housing market could make that impossible, council heard.
Kat Sloan said their eviction will force her and her husband, along with the businesses they operate, out of Abbotsford in order to find affordable housing. That will only compound financial difficulties brought on by COVID-19.
“I have made a home and a life here, I don’t want to start over,” Sloan said.
Another woman told council the amount she receives on disability won’t cover the cost of rent in Abbotsford.
“I can’t afford to live in some of these places I’ve looked for apartments,” she said, tearfully. “I still struggle every month just to feed myself, have a place to call home … I don’t know what to do.”
Addressing those about to be displaced, Mayor Henry Braun and Coun. Ross Siemens said council must make decisions in the best interest of the community, but that there is help for those about to be evicted.
“Be assured that this council doesn’t make these decisions with great glee to displace you, but we do have those concerns in mind,” Siemens said. He referred those about to be evicted to a community organization that tries to find housing for those facing homelessness.
If that doesn’t work, Braun said he might be able to find help.
“We’re not in the business of housing, but we do have networks and we do have the capability of connecting you with people who can help,” he said.
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