Planning a university district in Abbotsford

In future years, back to school will not only bring the University of the Fraser Valley to life, but September will spark up a new commercial hub in Abbotsford.

A conceptual illustration shows how King Road

In future years, back to school will not only bring the University of the Fraser Valley to life, but September will spark up a new commercial hub in Abbotsford.

The creation of a university district is still in its conceptual stages, but a formal plan is nearing completion.

It will be before Abbotsford council for adoption in late September or early October, said Jay Teichroeb, the city’s general manager of economic development and planning.

He called the proposed university district an “area in transition,” where older, “low-intensity industrial uses” will eventually give way to services aimed at university students and faculty.

“We are needing to set out a vision, and a direction for the private sector,” said Teichroeb, noting the development will likely take 25 years to reach fruition.

“If we do our job well, it will capture the public desire for the area.”

UFV students have become involved in researching the project, working with city and university planners.

“The students really got a tremendous amount of feedback from the student population out there,” said Teichroeb. “They were fully engaged.”

Craig Toews, the UFV director of campus planning, explained that fourth-year geography students took part in a one-day charrette, a condensed design exercise.

Students also conducted surveys about transit and housing needs, and what amenities university students want to see around their campus.

Toews said the work has led to presentations to the UFV board and senior city staff, but a final document outlining their findings is still being prepared.

He said the university population wants restaurants, salons, pharmacies, health services and a broad range of businesses.

“They’re looking for food services and amenities close in the area, so they don’t have to get in their cars and drive for everything.”

Housing was also identified as a priority. Students want housing that is both affordable and located “just off campus,” so it is not subject to the same rules and regulations as on-campus housing, which is shared accommodation, with private bedrooms but shared bathrooms and common areas.

UFV got its first dormitory in 2006, with 204 beds. Toews estimates the university will eventually need to build a total of 500 on-campus beds, and there should be approximately 2,000 affordable housing beds near the campus.

Developers have yet to be formally involved in planning, but Toews envisions multi-storey buildings on King Road and in the vicinity that have street-level commercial spaces with low-cost student housing above, and the potential for market housing (not targeted to students) on the uppermost levels.

He said the university district is vital to the institution, and planners have looked at the areas surrounding Simon Fraser University, the University of Washington and other schools.

“Life on campus is important to the university experience, and to learning outcomes actually,” said Toews.

He sees the city ultimately benefiting from a major commercial node, and those business people who invest in the area will enjoy a “captive audience of 12,000 students, right across the street.”

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