In the centre of Austin Heights, one of Coquitlam’s oldest neighbourhoods, excavators are at work tearing up the ground on the old Safeway site to make way for a massive redevelopment.
The 91,500-sq. ft. property at 1029-1033 Austin Ave. is owned by Beedie Living, the company that built the first highrise in the district after city council approved the Austin Heights Neighbourhood Plan in 2011, aimed at adding 5,000 more residents over the next 20 years.
But over the past seven years, there has been little interest by developers to renew the area.
Now, with real estate prices sky high and last year’s lift of the height moratorium on the strip — allowing developers to build up to 25 storeys — there’s been an uptick in activity.
Today’s condo market has meant strong demand and little supply, with the rise of land value now outstripping the building’s worth, said local realtor Wayne Tullis of MacDonald Realty.
And Beedie Living’s plans for the old Safeway site are expected to spur growth even faster.
While Sobeys, the supermarket chain that owns Safeway, is currently rebuilding its grocery store (due to open in the summer of 2019), Beedie is proposing to flank it with two towers, adding retail units at street level and 23 storeys of residential above for a total of 346 new homes.
Next Thursday (Jan. 18), Beedie’s concept will be put to the public at an open house from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Royal Canadian Legion (1025 Ridgeway Ave.) as part of its consultation.
Andrew Merrill, Coquitlam’s community planning manager, said the mega-development comes with a cost: Beedie will have to shell out $9.5 million in development cost charges (DCCs) for new infrastructure, community amenity fees and a density bonus. And it will be responsible for streetscape frontage upgrades along Austin and Ridgeway avenues, and Nelson Street.
The area rejuvenation is music to the ears of Lisa Landry, executive director of the Austin Heights Business Improvement Association, which last month saw its five-year budget and mandate renewed by city council (the 69 area property owners will vote on the plans this month).
As the district is the last big commercial core before the Port Mann bridge, Landry said, entrepreneurs are flocking to Austin Heights and opening new shops: Artisan Gifts and Flowers, and Coffee + Vanilla — among others — moved in last year and, next month, chartered accountant Sharon Perry Inc. is set to relocate her office into the Meegan Business Centre.
Besides the new tenants, more redevelopment is coming, Merrill said, citing a rezoning bid for a five-storey building (with 75 purpose-built rental units and a new church) at the Como Lake United Church property at King Albert Avenue and Marmont Street (council gave second and third bylaw readings on Nov. 27); and a pre-application for a 13-storey mixed-used building with about 79 residential units plus ground-floor commercial, at 1044-1046 Austin Ave.
Meanwhile, city hall is getting a lot of queries about the old post office on Ridgeway, he said.
Landry said the BIA — which represents 280 businesses in an area bounded by Gatensbury and Blue Mountain, and Ridgeway and Austin, some of which have been in the neighbourhood for more than four decades — plans to showcase the revitalization in a series of marketing efforts.
“It’s an exciting time to be part of Austin Heights and there’s a lot of pride,” she said. “We have seen a large turnover with the real estate boom and we want to tell businesses coming into the area that we have a very loyal customer base, and we are invested and committed.”