Narrow Essendene to attract more people to historic downtown, planners suggest

Keep historic downtown’s history, public and planners say

The city is considering narrowing Essendene Avenue to two lanes of traffic through Abbotsford’s historic downtown as part of its long-term plan for the area.

On Monday, staff presented council with a concept plan that will guide the creation of a long-term neighbourhood plan for the historic downtown.

The plan is wide-ranging and includes a variety of proposals, although many aim to incentivize developers – and thus require a third party’s action. But the redesign of Essendene, with broader sidewalks and a centre turn lane, would be achievable by the city alone.

The goal, according to the plan delivered to council, would be for Essendene “to increasingly act as a destination retail street to serve local area travel and include a more attractive walking and cycling environment.”

The idea met with general enthusiasm from councillors.

“I’m really excited about what it holds for the future,” Coun. Dave Loewen said. He noted that attitudes had changed in the 10 years since such a plan had last been floated, then abandoned.

“We considered two lanes down there and it was shot down immediately – that, no, it won’t fly.”

Coun. Ross Siemens, who runs Hub Motors on Essendene, agreed: “I do agree the traffic calming would be awesome to see.”

In response to a question from Coun. Les Barkman on how the change would impact east-west traffic throughout the city, Mark Neill, the city’s director of community planning, said planning staff will be working with engineering colleagues to determine the possible ramifications. And those discussions, he said, are aided by the ongoing development of a new transportation master plan for the city.

Siemens added: “We’re not just going to slow traffic down in one area without any alternatives.”

Beyond the future of Essendene, the concept plan echoed the public’s wishes that the historic downtown’s core blocks should remain small-scale and rooted in the area’s past.

While increased density is envisioned in the areas surrounding the historic downtown’s core, in the blocks immediately adjacent to the Essendene/Montrose intersection, the concept plan suggests retaining limits on building heights and preserving the character of the central area.

That comes after consultation meetings and events during which the public resoundingly called for the preservation of the neighbourhood.

Not all think development should be banned; the public was split on whether new housing construction should be allowed to “add to the commercial core in the area.”But residents almost unanimously endorsed retaining and enhancing historic aspects of the downtown. Indeed, only patios were more desired along the area’s shopping streets.

The plan suggests the less-busy areas surrounding the core blocks could be slated for higher-density residential and mixed-use buildings.

It also casts an eye on the former site of the Clayburn Brick Plant. That now-vacant property was sold earlier this year for $16 million and looks slated for residential development. The concept plan suggests the southerly portions of the property could see some mixed-use and residential midrises, with the northerly block reserved for ground-oriented multi-family buildings like townhouses.

As for parking, consultations showed the public thinks the current situation neither “works well” or uniformly doesn’t work.

Instead, three-quarters of respondents said their experience depends on the day, and the majority said they’d be willing to walk three to five blocks.

Most didn’t want to see more enforcement ramped up. Instead, improved safety and comfort were highly desired, as were trip-planning tools which could range from signage to digital apps, and clear loading zones.

The public also wanted safe streets, bike amenities and, above all, pedestrian amenities to improve transportation choice. There was also distaste for building styles that clashed with the historic-feeling nature of the area, with the public rejecting the use of modern materials like glass, glazing and steel.

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