A neighbourhood plan is being created for Abbotsford’s newly defined city centre in the area surrounding central South Fraser Way. File photo

Mill Lake plaza pitched in plan for Abbotsford’s core

City centre concept suggests major public space at park, keeping South Fraser Way five lanes

A major new public plaza on the north shores of Mill Lake is suggested in a new concept plan for Abbotsford’s city centre area along and around South Fraser Way.

The idea is among a bevy of concepts floated as part of ongoing work to rethink the South Fraser Way corridor as the city grows over the coming decades.

A concept plan presented to council recently laid out the broad strokes of how planners hope to encourage growth and development in the newly defined city centre. The concept must still be followed by a draft plan, and then a final plan, before any of the ideas become city policy.

The plaza idea is linked into the new Official Community Plan’s (OCP) stated desire to better connect Mill Lake with the South Fraser Way commercial area. The new concept plan suggests the Mill Lake area would also be well-suited for a conference centre and hotel complex.

The plan suggests several other smaller plazas to be scattered around the commercial area and, like the OCP, breaking up the area’s large blocks with more connecting roads, side streets, and pedestrian thoroughfares. It also suggests allowing for increased density in the core of the city centre, but only if developers promise to contribute to public amenities. The concept would keep the current land use designations for areas on the city centre’s periphery.

The plan also suggests retaining four travel lanes for South Fraser Way. That’s a slight change from the OCP, in which it was suggested the artery may be reduced to a single lane, with an additional lane on each side for parking or transit.

In consultations over the last year, the public expressed little enthusiasm for reducing the number of lanes on South Fraser Way in order to provide more space for walking, biking and transit, or for increasing street parking. They were more amenable to designing quieter residential streets and increasing the attractiveness of sidewalks, according to the concept plan, which summarized the public’s input thus far.

“Through the life of this plan, we don’t envision being able to create a South Fraser Way that is adaptive to the human-scaled vibrant shopping experience,” planner Patrick Oystryk told council.

As an alternative, the plan designates three “retail streets,” each of which would run south into what is now a property occupied by a mall once, or if, its owner chooses to redevelop. Dense mixed-use buildings would be focused on such streets, in addition to South Fraser Way.

The public was in favour of the creation of a mix of housing, and requiring new apartment buildings to include family-friendly three-bedroom units. There was markedly less enthusiasm for leaving the provision of housing just to the market.

The public also gave the thumbs-up to a plan that would create distributed centres around the area, rather than a single focal point or even along a single street corridor. Adding to the tree canopy and providing paths between parks and cultural amenities also met with a highly favourable reception.

The single-least popular suggestion put to residents was that transit was currently adequate. More people suggested they would take transit, if the system was better. The plan notes that the Bourquin bus exchange is currently under review, “with a potential new location being proposed somewhere within the civic precinct.”

More consultations will take place in advance of the draft plan. The policies of any final plan will aim to guide development, but the actual future of the area will be subject to developers proposing projects that fits its aims. Like the OCP, the plan will also amendable at any time by a majority vote of council.

More: Oystryk expanded on Twitter about the challenges of making South Fraser Way a retail street after the publication of this story.

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