Austin Heights plan under scrutiny

Participants take a look at the posters on the wall during the open house for the draft Austin Heights Neighbourhood Plan. - Craig Hodge/the tri-city newS
Participants take a look at the posters on the wall during the open house for the draft Austin Heights Neighbourhood Plan.
— image credit: Craig Hodge/the tri-city newS

Hundreds of Coquitlam residents and business owners crammed into an open house this week to get their last say on how Austin Heights should redevelop.

Participants read posters on the wall about the planned land-use changes and talked to municipal staff about the city’s 20-year vision for the aging neighbourhood that, if adopted by city council, will see high-rises along Austin Avenue, roads closed off for pedestrian walkways and, in the south part, carriage homes, triplexes and quadraplexes on larger single-family lots.

The goal is to add about 5,000 more residents in another 2,500 homes in the area between Blue Mountain to Linton streets and Foster to Rochester avenues.

Last month, the Beedie Group became the first developer to put forward plans for a 24-storey tower for the corner of Blue Mountain Street and Austin Avenue, a landmark project that will serve as the neighbourhood gateway. Its proposal, which has yet to be formally introduced before city council, is expected to be the catalyst for growth once the neighbourhood plan is adopted.

But how other property owners and developers will respond to the changes is still unclear. Many businesses owners are waiting for Safeway, which owns a block in the centre of the commercial core, to submit plans to the city for redevelopment (Safeway was unable to comment before The Tri-City News’ deadline Thursday).

“The catalyst for the redevelopment will be the large retailers,” Mayor Richard Stewart told The News yesterday.

Landowners key

Council’s first priority for Austin Heights, he said, is to adopt the draft neighbourhood plan, which has been in the works for more than two years. Then, the city can start talking with landowners about potential densification.

“I do want to sit down with property owners. I want our staff and our council to have an open dialogue with them,” he said. “We’ve done it with the neighbourhood. Now, we have to start to focus a little bit more on the individual properties because there is tremendous [opportunity] there.”

Stewart said some Austin businesses and institutions have large lots that are currently underused. “If they don’t want to do anything, that’s fine, but we want them to make that decision with enough facts. They may not understand that they can retain ownership of a property while it gets redeveloped.”

Pedestrian plazas

Erin Davidson, executive director of the Austin Heights BIA, was at Wednesday’s open house to hear the many comments about the draft neighbourhood plan. “I personally am very impressed,” she said. “I am pleased to see the evolution of the plan and how it has been modified along the way by planners who have listened to the groups and have balanced the needs.”

Davidson favours the proposed aesthetic appeal, pedestrian-friendly shopping and design concepts to open up the neighbourhood. “Exciting times are ahead for Austin Heights,” she said.

Calls to Coquitlam city planners were not immediately returned Thursday. City council is expected consider the Austin Heights Neighbourhood Plan in the next few weeks.

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