City staff have suggested capping building heights in the core of Abbotsford’s historic downtown, a move that could imperil plans for a major new proposed development.
Last week, council got a first look at a new draft plan for the historic downtown. The plan would lay out how the city would like to see the area change over the coming decades.
Crucially, the document – which is still in the draft stage and can be amended by council before passage, or anytime thereafter – designates the central core of the neighbourhood as the “historic centre” and suggests capping building heights at three storeys.
The plan comes just as the owner of the Fraser Valley Inn has proposed to build a new six-storey mixed-use building on the site of the downtown landmark, at the corner of Essendene and Montvue avenues.
While details of the entire project are still sparse, signs on the prominent downtown building testify to the proposed height of the new building.
Meanwhile, the draft plan for historic downtown suggests that designating the core blocks of the area – north of South Fraser Way, east of Pauline, south of Essendene and west of Montvue – as the area’s “historic centre.” A mix of uses would be permitted, but retail and service commercial would be required on the ground floor for new buildings in the area. New buildings would also have to meet certain requirements in terms of building materials, colours and the incorporation of character and historic details. (Existing buildings would not be required to make changes to comply with the new policies).
The draft plan also suggests that council consider protections for historic buildings, or new rules should their owners plan to demolish them. The Fraser Valley Inn building – which was constructed in 1927 and operated for years as the Atangard Hotel – is among the five locations identified by planners as a candidate for historic designation of some type.
The draft plan notes that it will be a challenging task to determine how to identify historic buildings in the downtown core. Although the city has another round of consultation to go through before the plan is adopted, the final decision will lie in the hands of Abbotsford’s mayor and eight councillors.
If council chooses to abandon the status quo, in which historic buildings are treated no differently from others in the area, two options are available: either historic buildings will be protected from future demolition, or the city can implement provisions that, while allowing for historic buildings to be torn down or redeveloped, would require owners to recreate or retain a building’s historic facade.
Asked how the historic downtown plan would affect the Fraser Valley Inn proposal, a city spokesperson said staff would be bringing recommendations to council in a future report on the application.
Although the draft plan would restrict heights in the historic downtown’s core, it would encourage significant densification for surrounding areas, with areas surrounding the core slated for taller buildings ranging from four to six storeys in height, with residential, commercial and mixed uses. Those buildings would be allowed to incorporate a wider range of materials, with “moderate historic references.”