Two new plans that aim to guide development in Abbotsford’s most-prominent commercial areas for decades to come got a long-awaited thumb’s up from council and the public Monday.
After a public hearing with mostly positive comments from the public, council voted unanimously to give third reading to neighbourhood plans for the historic downtown and the “city centre” area along South Fraser Way.
The two plans won’t alter things overnight, and most changes will take place only as local property owners choose to redevelop. But they aim to lay out a long-term vision for Abbotsford’s commercial centres and how they will change for decades to come – if future councils see fit.
For the city centre area, that vision is one of taller buildings, more-walkable streets and the conversion of large surface parking lots and malls into street-facing shopping destinations.
The historic downtown plan, on the other hand, aims to increase the number of people living in the area while preserving its historic character. Building heights in a four-block “core” will be limited to three storeys.
More than a dozen people spoke about the plans at a public hearing preceding council’s vote, with the vast majority in favour.
Jenn McEwan, the executive director of the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association, said the organization was “extremely happy” with the consultation process and applauded plans to reduce the number of travel lanes on Essendene Avenue to just two, with a centre left-turn lane.
“The ADBA particularly supports the redesign of Essendene Avenue … where it will achieve the objective of traffic calming and increase the quality of the pedestrian experience along this strip,” she said.
The plan was also supported by the Atangard Community Project, which operates a shared living space in the Fraser Valley Inn that is home to 23 residents. Mitch Huttema, the president of the group, asked the city to keep residents in mind as more work is done.
Darin Graham, who operates Boardwalk Café and Games on Montrose, urged the city not to wait for developers to improve two downtown intersections identified in the plan.
The city centre plan, meanwhile, is a promising development for local seniors, said Gerd Bartel, the president of Menno Place.
Menno Place is working with a local developer who has submitted a plan to create a “seniors’ village” just west of the Gur Sikh Temple.
Bartel said a more-walkable city centre is “something we really want to take advantage of and provide many hundreds of seniors the ability to live downtown and, in a very close-knit environment, access shops, green space, and be able to be mobile in a downtown core.”
Planners told council Monday that at the last consultation event, 85 per cent of comment sheets submitted indicated support for the historic downtown plan. The city centre plan saw similar levels of support, according to staff reports.