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Taller buildings and more people: Abbotsford’s plan for a new city centre nears completion

Plan for smaller blocks, taller buildings and a dense, modern city centre goes to public hearing.
Abbotsford’s new city centre plan envisions a South Fraser Way with taller buildings and more residents. City of Abbotsford image.

Smaller blocks, taller buildings and a dense, modern city centre: That’s the vision for the busy South Fraser Way strip in the core of Abbotsford that will go to the public next week.

Three years ago, the city adopted a new official community plan that included, as one of its key new ideas, the concept of a dense, bustling commercial core along South Fraser Way.

The finer details, though, were left for a future neighbourhood plan.

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After years of work and myriad consultation events, the public will get their final chance to see and comment on that plan on Monday.


The Vision

The plan lays out how the city will try to turn parking lots into a bustling, fun and lively neighbourhood – and what the resulting area might look like.

The city won’t be doing the building itself. Instead, the plan will guide what developers are allowed to build and where. It also lays out how the city will attempt to shape the roads and infrastructure surrounding new buildings.

The main redevelopment area stretches along South Fraser Way, from just west of Trethewey Street to just past Bourquin Crescent. That area – which is bordered on the north by Simon Avenue and south by Hillcrest Avenue and Mill Lake Park – will be considerably denser, with buildings at least three storeys tall and parking lots largely banished underground.

Unless council does a U-turn, the neighbourhood will be the only place where new buildings can exceed six storeys, although a separate review will lay out exactly what kind of contributions developers will need to make to be able to build towers.

Over the next quarter-century, the plan aims to nearly double the area’s population by adding more than 10,000 new residents, most of whom would live in apartments.

When most areas on the fringes of the city centre core – including properties currently operated by Real Canadian Superstore and an adjacent strip mall on South Fraser Way – redevelop, they will be slated for midrise apartment uses.

The Roads

South Fraser Way will be the heart of the area, and the plan imagines turning the road into a tree-lined boulevard with bike lanes separate from the road and frequent buses running up and down the corridor. Buildings, rather than parking lots, will line the road, and infrastructure tweaks will aim to slow the pace of traffic.

The plan also suggests ensuring that outside vehicle lanes have “the ability to accommodate a future Bus Rapid Transit or Light Rail Transit line.”

Three north-south streets would run perpendicular to South Fraser Way, pushing south through what are now malls. These would be the neighbourhood’s three “retail streets,” an they would contain the vast majority of the city centre’s new shopping options.

Several new roads would also be created, if the plan’s vision is fulfilled, and one road, Commercial Street, would be closed and transformed into a linear park.

The Malls

The three big malls on the south side of South Fraser Way are, in many ways, the key to the plan. In order for the city’s vision to become a reality, the owners of the malls and other large properties along South Fraser Way will need to decide to redevelop.

Those new shopping streets are imagined as potential new homes for those businesses now located in the malls.

“This strategy is about providing each large shopping centre on the south side of South Fraser Way with its own high-street shopping destination,” planner Patrick Oystryk, who has since left the city, told council last fall.

The redevelopment of the sites won’t happen quickly, for a variety of reasons, the plan notes.

“Examples elsewhere have shown a teardown-and-rebuild approach isn’t feasible,” the plan says. “Most shopping centres going through redevelopment efforts require ongoing cash flow from existing lease agreements with tenants.”

It’s expected that development will begin on the edges of properties, in what are now parking lots. But new buildings on a mall site will only go up after a master plan is received for the entire subject property.

Mill Lake

Mill Lake Park would be connected to South Fraser Way by one of those roads, with a new plaza created around what is now a large glacial erratic rock in the current Sevenoaks Shopping Centre parking lot.

The plan also calls for continued property acquisitions, including the purchase of four properties to better connect Mill Lake Park with the city centre and the new road to be punched through the Sevenoaks property.

The public can comment on both the city centre and historic downtown neighbourhood plans during public hearings on Monday at 7 p.m. at Matsqui Centennial Auditorium. To see the plans in full, and to read our story on the historic downtown plan, go to