Gravel trucks and construction machines rolling up and down Coast Meridian Road and David Avenue to Burke Mountain have become a common sight to Tri-City residents.
For at least five years, crews have been steadily building a community that will one day have the population of Port Moody on the lower slopes of the mountain in three distinct neighbourhoods: Upper Hyde Creek, Lower Hyde Creek and Smiling Creek.
But the buzz of activity isn't anything compared to what's planned for Partington Creek.
Of the 20,000-plus people expected to call Burke Mountain home over the next 20 years, up to three quarters of them will live in Partington.
At 595 acres, of which 25% is city-owned, Partington is intended to be the "heart" of the mountain - and its largest and busiest district - boasting stores, four schools, civic and recreational facilities and, perhaps, mid- and high-rises in the hub.
Already, infrastructure work is underway in what is now a semi-rural area. The city is installing the Upper Hyde Creek storm diversion pipe, running north of Baycrest Avenue and emptying at Victoria and Cedar drives, and into Deboville Slough.
The project was mandated following the adoption of the Partington Creek Integrated Watershed Management Plan (IWMP), a $30-million proposal aimed at protecting Partington's rich ecosystem and preventing flooding in the low-lying farmlands. (Partington's watershed plan was so complex that Fisheries and Oceans Canada held up the neighbourhood plan for a year until the city moved its commercial hub to safeguard Star Creek and its tributaries.)
Jim McIntyre, Coquitlam's general manager of planning and development, said during a driving tour of the area this week that the environment is the key to developing Partington. "The IWMP is our foundation piece," McIntyre said.
Watercourses, including roadside ditches, will be upgraded to accommodate stream flow and fish habitat. As well, riparian areas will be fenced off where trails are built.
Parks will be abundant, too, McIntyre said. In the draft Partington Creek Neighbourhood Plan, which was presented to city council last December, nine new passive and active parks are recommended over a total of 51.7 acres (to the east, near Minnekhada Regional Park but outside of the Partington neighbourhood, will be Gilley's Field, a recreational zone for organized sports).
As for building on Partington, much of the challenge will be the steep slopes that overlook Pitt Meadows and beyond as well as the Fraser River. Nearly three quarters of the area has a grade above 10%, said Carl Johannsen, Coquitlam's community planning manager.
Up to 5,700 residential units are planned for Partington's 15,000 residents - and 70% of those homes will be classed as "townhousing residential."
"When you go down [Upper] Victoria Drive, you can picture it one day being lined with townhouses on both sides," Johannsen said. "More north will be single-family [housing]."
McIntyre is quick to point out there will be a variety of housing styles - not just long rows of the same design - because of the number of developers.
Tony Proietti, president of the Northeast Coquitlam Ratepayers' Association, said the lack of variety has been an issue so far on Burke Mountain, not to mention the number of units.
The city has allowed more homes to be built than were planned, he said, and as a result, Burke Mountain streets have become crowded with cars.
According to the city's official community plan (OCP), 517 units were envisioned for Upper Hyde Creek, 531 units for Lower Hyde Creek and 1,750 units for Smiling Creek (2,798 in total). But since 2007, the city has issued about 1,900 residential building permits for the three neighbourhoods - including for secondary suites, which are allowed in single-family homes that don't have restrictive covenants - and there are still hundreds more homes to be started, which means the final total will be much larger.
City staff reports that the actual development yields have trended higher than the original projections, which they now deem as "overly detailed," because market demands have required smaller, more affordable living spaces on Burke.
In his report to council last February, McIntyre noted the benefits to the increased population: more tax revenues and development cost charges for the city, more efficient use of infrastructure and more support for transit.
For Proietti, he wants to see a better housing mix for Partington. "When they build duplexes and row houses up here, it's all the same. It doesn't look good."
McIntyre said the city's job is to strike the right balance for growth. Upper and Lower Hyde creeks are generally single-family while Smiling and Partington will have higher density clusters.
"Having lower density lends itself to a premium," he said.
McIntyre also said another conundrum for the city is planning Burke's commercial and recreational core towards the east side of the mountain.
"You have to make it economically viable not only for businesses but so that people can walk there and do 30% or 40% of their shopping without having to drive to Coquitlam Centre or to Fremont Village in Port Coquitlam every week," McIntyre said. "It's going to have to be a vibrant nucleus for it to work."
Coquitlam city council is expected to adopt the Partington Creek neighbourhood plan this spring; a master land-use plan for the commercial core as well as a servicing and civic facilities strategy are expected to follow. The city will host two open houses next week on the draft Partington Creek Neighbourhood Plan:
Tuesday, Feb. 19, 4 to 8 p.m. at Victoria Hall (3435 Victoria Dr.);
Thursday, Feb. 21. 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Douglas College (1250 Pinetree Way). Later that night, the Northeast Coquitlam Ratepayers' Association will host its monthly meeting at 7 p.m. at Victoria Hall.