The potential for downtown highrises and the long-term future of the malls that currently dominate central Abbotsford are key components of a new plan for the city’s core.
Council saw the official draft of the new plan last week, with final adoption set for early 2019, should the new group of politicians elected this fall see fit.
The plan is focused on a rectangular area north of Mill Lake and centred around South Fraser Way and its malls (and parking lots). It aims to guide development of the area for decades to come and envisions the addition of mixed-use buildings with amenities, commercial space and thousands of new apartments.
The goal is to create a livelier, “leafier” core less dominated by surface parking. Planners envision a grid network of roads, three new shopping streets, and the creation of a linear park “unlike anything we have in our city today,” planner Patrick Oystryk told council.
Whether the vision of the area becomes a reality will depend in large part on how three shopping centres – Sevenoaks Shopping Centre, West Oaks Mall and Clearbrook Town Square – on the south side of South Fraser Way are developed.
“The sheer scale of the properties, operations, and contracts that exist today will make transforming them into the high-density, vibrant, and attractive city centre neighbourhoods this document envisions, a complex undertaking,” the plan says.
Because the owners of the malls will need the cash flow that comes from their existing operations, redevelopment will inevitably start at the edges, in the parking lots. But before any development starts, the city will need to see a plan for the finalized build-out of each property.
To encourage the transition, the plan envisions a shopping street being created at the centre of each of the three properties and running north, across South Fraser Way. The streets will allow the properties to still act as shopping destinations, while transitioning to a new layout.
“This strategy is really about providing each large shopping centre on the south side of South Fraser Way with its own Highstreet-style of destination,” Oystryk said.
The city centre will be the only area of town where highrises are permitted, and the plan lays out what a developer must do to get a tall building through the approval process – although future councils will still get the final say and can override the plans.
The urban boulevard envisioned for South Fraser Way would include a centre median with two lanes of traffic in each direction and centre turning lanes. Two rows of trees on each side of the roadway would separate bike lanes both from the rest of traffic and sidewalks.
Meanwhile, the Commercial Street connection between South Fraser Way and Hillcrest Avenue would be moved just to the east – at the south end of Garden Street. The street, then, would be converted into a park that would provide “respite from the bustle of the city centre.”
The plan also envisions the creation of a large public plaza between Mill Lake Park and the southern end of the Sevenoaks property.
The plan was applauded by several councillors, including Coun. Dave Loewen, who said the “brilliant” result outstripped his hopes when the process started.
“I wondered to myself, how could we ever re-invent that part of Abbotsford, which was essentially a large parking lot, into a city centre?” he said.
But while development trends, land values and the plan itself are all pushing in a similar direction, fully realizing the vision laid out by planners will take decades.
“I wish I was 30 or 40 years younger so I could live a little longer to see all of this,” Mayor Henry Braun said, adding: “I can see it already, I’m excited about it.”