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May 2,2008 Tri City News

By Diane Strandberg - The Tri-City News - May 02, 2008

The Evergreen Line is nothing but a line on paper now but it won’t be long before pressures to build higher-density development along the rapid transit route will start to shape the land with the force and energy of shifting tectonic plates.

In little more than six years, the Evergreen Line will be able to whisk passengers from Coquitlam to Burnaby in slightly over 12 minutes at a top speed of 80 km/h. Ten or 15 years from now, riders will hardly recognize the landscape if previous rapid transit experience is anything to go by and TransLink makes good on its promise to maximize its land holdings with its new real estate division.

“We would have to be naive to think density isn’t going to follow rapid transit,” says Port Moody Mayor Trasolini.

His city of 30,000 won a gamble when Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon reaffirmed the northwest route up North Road, under Clarke Road hill to the CP Rail tracks and ending near Douglas College’s David Lam campus on Pinetree Way.

PoMo has already seen townhouses and highrise towers sprout up at Inlet Centre and Newport Village like daffodils in spring in anticipation of rapid transit and similar types of density will be concentrated near Evergreen Line stations, possibly at Moray and Queens streets.

But Trasolini said he isn’t worried.

His city has long planned for rapid transit and is in the middle of updating its official community plan to make sure it includes denser development to support rapid transit while still keeping a small-town feel. Redevelopment of the Flavelle cedar mill site if that business succumbs to the pressures of sawmills elsewhere in B.C. is one idea and would include a mix of high- and low-rise residential, commercial, industrial and institutional buildings — none over 26 storeys.

If the suggested Waterfront Village is built, it would be across the street from a potential Evergreen Line station.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know there’s going to be impacts,” Trasolini said. “If cities haven’t planned for that, they haven’t done their job.”

One of the wild cards in the deck is TransLink, which now has its own real estate division with plans to maximize current land holdings and buy and sell future property along transit routes to make money to buy buses and build roads and rapid transit (see sidebar).

The Evergreen Line will be the transportation authority’s proving ground for this real estate vision, with the Coquitlam bus loop and West Coast Express station at the corner of Barnet and Lougheed highways one of the first properties on the block.

Coquitlam Mayor Maxine Wilson said she welcomes the opportunity to work with TransLink and any other partners to densify the site and provide more riders for rapid transit — as well as amenities for the city by trading off density for cash using the city’s new density bonus bylaw, which just passed first reading.

“As long as we do it with the purpose of putting that money to social amenities as well as affordable housing or other types of supportive housing,” Wilson said about the trade-off of airspace for cash.

A transit village at the corner of Barnet and Lougheed is not an unrealistic vision given the pace of densification of the city’s downtown core.

Across the way is Coquitlam Centre, managed by Morguard Investments Ltd., which also owns Burquitlam Plaza; both properties that are poised to take advantage of rapid transit.

General manager James Moller said, like everyone else, he’s waiting to see where the stations will go.

TransLink is expected to announce the location of a community project office in the next few weeks and, from there, much of the information about the Evergreen Line is expected to flow.

While TransLink will have its own ideas about station location and how the transit hubs will fit into the landscape, the cities of Coquitlam and PoMo are well aware of the need to put high-density development near the stations to justify the transit investment.

“You need to build stations where you can build density and where community accepts density,” said Wilson.

Park-and-ride facilities may be included in future plans as well as shuttle buses to get Westwood Plateau, Burke Mountain and Heritage Mountain residents on to rapid transit.

But it’s likely most of the riders expected to swipe their Smart Cards to get onto the Evergreen Line don’t even live here yet.

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