Towering concerns with Austin Heights

A decision on Austin Heights
A decision on Austin Heights' future will be made on Monday.

More people will live in Austin Heights but how tall the towers will be in the aging Coquitlam neighbourhood is still a sticking point for many residents and business owners.

At a public hearing Monday on the draft Austin Heights Neighbourhood Plan — a blueprint for how the area will develop over the next 20 years — city council listened as speakers gave mixed reviews (council was expected to vote on the plan Monday but instead deferred a decision to its April 4 meeting).

Those in favour say the commercial district is in desperate need of an upgrade while those against voiced concerns about the proposed height of the buildings, pointing to the Beedie Group’s 24-storey highrise planned for the former Shell site at the corner of Austin Avenue and Blue Mountain Street, the gateway to the neighbourhood. If built, its impact would be tremendous, some speakers argued.

“This will completely change the character of the area,” said Ken Laroy, who has lived in Austin Heights since 1979. He said commuters would be able to see the tower as far away as Como Lake Avenue, about 10 blocks away.

Austin business owner Aj Chadha also suggested the city provide a smoother transition from the Beedie tower to the single-family homes across the road by allowing medium-sized buildings at the northwest corner of Austin and Blue Mountain.

Jim McIntyre, Coquitlam’s general manager of planning and development, said that recommendation was in the original plan but taken out because of complaints from residents. “So, in the end, we said, ‘Let’s just recognize that pocket as being predominantly single-family,’” he said. “It seems to be a pretty established use there. Perhaps, in time, there might be another look at that.”

Nadia Carvalho, a city community planner, also said the podium of the proposed Beedie tower would be four storeys and would provide a balance between the low and highrise units on either side of the street.

Still, others speakers urged densification.

Robert Gritten, a realtor representing Rona, which has six years left on the lease of its store on Austin, questioned why the city had capped heights on his client’s property. In previous plans, there were twin 16-storey towers proposed on that site but after the January open house, the city changed the plans to show those buildings at four storeys.

The reason? Gritten said owners of homes directly to the south didn’t want people living in towers looking into their backyards.

Edward Enns, a 39-year Austin Heights resident, also asked council to get more residents in the neighbourhood. Infill housing takes development pressure off of agricultural lands in Metro Vancouver, said the retired engineering, also noting Austin Heights is on stable ground and would absorb an earthquake well.

Coquitlam-Maillardville NDP MLA Diane Thorne, whose constituency office is located on Austin Avenue and who is an Austin Heights BIA charter member, said she has spoken with many retailers and “it’s very, very difficult for businesses to make a go in this area” because of the lack of density.

Once Austin Heights is redone, it will be a walkable community, close to services and transit, she said, adding, “I think lots of seniors will move in here.”

The Austin Heights Neighbourhood Plan calls for highrises along Austin, roads closed off for pedestrian walkways and, in the southern part, carriage homes, triplexes and fourplexes on large 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.



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