How Burnaby is Building More Highrises than Vancouver (…Way More)

While the City of Vancouver grapples with worsening housing affordability conditions, increasingly contentious area plans, and an excruciatingly slow planning process for even modest density increases, Burnaby is quietly going through what is likely one of the most dramatic suburban transformations in the history Metro Vancouver, if not Canada.

Most people have only really begun to take notice more recently with higher and higher towers starting to pop up in Metrotown and now Brentwood. With a strong condo market fuelling demand for new towers near transit, most of Vancouver’s large developers have been active securing sites in Burnaby in the last several years. While the rezoning applications tend not to attract as much attention as those high profile projects in Downtown Vancouver, the magnitude of activity can’t be ignored, particularly when one ponders the scale of projects like Shape Properties’ recently approved Lougheed Town Centre.

How did Burnaby become a hotbed of highrise construction at a scale that dwarfs even the City of Vancouver? You have to go back a few years to understand how the plans were put in place.

The City of Burnaby put plans in place several years ago to concentrate growth in and near major rapid transit (Skytrain) nodes, particularly in four town centre areas they identified as follows:

Furtheremore, unlike homeowners in Vancouver that have been increasingly vocal against even midrise developments, towers in Burnaby have faced less public opposition during rezoning, in part due to the fact that many highrises are being being built in former industrial areas that are being lost to residential, or in areas that are primarily occupied by older rundown apartments where tenants have, seemingly, less influence with the City than single family homeowners.

So far, about 30 highrise towers have been built in these four town centre areas (including 2 office towers), primarily in Metrotown, where projects such as Sovereign by Bosa – a 45-storey hotel and condo tower, and Metroplace by Intracorp – a condo tower near the Metrotown Skytrain station, have each taken advantage of sizeable density increases per the Metrotown Town Centre plan. The sales velocity and pricing of each new development spurs even greater interest for new projects and generates more and more rezoning applications. Land speculation is now commonplace, particularly in more mature areas such as Metrotown.

The City of Burnaby’s willingness to allow fairly substantial density on previously underutilized parcels of land previously dedicated to commercial and industrial use has vaulted Burnaby far ahead of any area in Metro Vancouver in terms of highrise construction. Shape Properties’ two mall sites: Brentwood and Lougheed, are the largest and most well known, but others such as Onni’s Gilmore Station (rumored to include BC’s new tallest tower) and Concord’s Brentwood projects are massive themselves and in terms of height and scale, tower over Vancouver’s most ambitious plans such as the recently scaled back Oakridge.

A review of current and forthcoming developments in the City of Burnaby shows over 100 highrises in various stages of development (under application or construction), almost all of them intended for residential condos, with a handful of commercial office towers usually required on the larger scale developments to preserve job space. A few stats show the scale of this wave of development in Burnaby:

  • 106 highrises under development (compared to 68 in the City of Van)
  • 47 highrises of 40-storeys or more (compared 13 in the City of Van)
  • Over 30,000 units under development (excluding lowrise and townhouse units)

Here is a breakdown of all of this activity, by each area of Burnaby:

Brentwood

ProjectDeveloperHeight (Storeys)UnitsStatus
The Amazing BrentwoodShape
Brentwood ONE53591U/C
Brentwood TWO53563U/C
Brentwood THREE51526U/C
Brentwood Tower 440~2,500Proposed
Brentwood Tower 530Proposed
Brentwood Tower 655Proposed
Brentwood Tower 735Proposed
Brentwood Tower 830Proposed
Brentwood Tower 935Proposed
Brentwood Tower 1040Proposed
Gilmore StationOnni
Gateway Tower 145~2,600Proposed
Gateway Tower 255Proposed
Gateway Tower 365Proposed
Dawson Tower 125Proposed
Dawson Tower 235Proposed
Dawson Tower 335Proposed
Dawson Tower 445Proposed
Carlton Tower35Proposed
Commerce Tower 115Proposed
Commerce Tower 230Proposed
Concord Place - BrentwoodConcord Pacific
Hillside Tower 142892Proposed
Hillside Tower 247Proposed
Hillside Tower 345~2,900Proposed
Hillside Tower 455Proposed
Flatlands Tower 130Proposed
Flatlands Tower 240Proposed
Parkside Tower 125Proposed
Parkside Tower 235Proposed
Parkside Tower 335Proposed
Parkside Tower 445Proposed
Solo DistrictAppia
Stratus45374Complete
Altus48284U/C
Tower 339700Proposed
Tower 445Proposed
1846-1904 Gilmore46340Proposed
2242 Alpha AveMonark30Proposed
2425 Alpha Ave Tower 1Thind25~750Proposed
2425 Alpha Ave Tower 230Proposed
2425 Alpha Ave Tower 335Proposed
2630 Douglas Road Tower 125n/aProposed
2630 Douglas Road Tower 230n/aProposed
4720 Dawson Road25170Proposed
AviaraLedingham McAllister32300Complete
Escala (1710 Gilmore Ave)Ledingham McAllister42520U/C
Fulton House (2338 Madison Ave)Polygon41300Proposed
Milano (2450 Alpha Ave)Solterra31176Pre-sales

East Burnaby/Lougheed

ProjectDeveloperHeight (Storeys)UnitsStatus
Lougheed Town CentreShape
Lougheed Tower 125-65~11,000Proposed
Lougheed Tower 225-65Proposed
Lougheed Tower 325-65Proposed
Lougheed Tower 425-65Proposed
Lougheed Tower 525-65Proposed
Lougheed Tower 625-65Proposed
Lougheed Tower 725-65Proposed
Lougheed Tower 825-65Proposed
Lougheed Tower 925-65Proposed
Lougheed Tower 1025-65Proposed
Lougheed Tower 1125-65Proposed
Lougheed Tower 1225-65Proposed
Lougheed Tower 1325-65Proposed
Lougheed Tower 1425-65Proposed
Lougheed Tower 1525-65Proposed
Lougheed Tower 1625-65Proposed
Lougheed Tower 1725-65Proposed
Lougheed Tower 1825-65Proposed
Lougheed Tower 1925-65Proposed
Lougheed Tower 2025-65Proposed
Lougheed Tower 2125-65Proposed
Lougheed Tower 2225-65Proposed
Lougheed Tower 2325-65Proposed

South Burnaby

ProjectDeveloperHeight (Storeys)UnitsStatus
Southgate VillageLedingham McAllister
Gateway Tower 126~6,250Proposed
Gateway Tower 228Proposed
Gateway Tower 330Proposed
Gateway Tower 434Proposed
Gateway Tower 536Proposed
Gateway Tower 638Proposed
Gateway Tower 740Proposed
Gateway Tower 844Proposed
Ernie Winch Tower 30Proposed
Ernie Winch Tower 226Proposed
Island Tower 126Proposed
Island Tower 230Proposed
Island Tower 338Proposed
Crescent Tower 138Proposed
Crescent Tower 240Proposed
Crescent Tower 346Proposed
Courtyard Tower 124Proposed
Courtyard Tower 226Proposed
Courtyard Tower 332Proposed
Kings CrossingCressey
Kings Crossing Tower 125803Pre-sales
Kings Crossing Tower 230Pre-sales
Kings Crossing Tower 340Pre-sales

Metrotown

ProjectDeveloperHeight (Storeys)UnitsStatus
Station SquareAnthem/Beedie
Station Square Tower 135269Complete
Station Square Tower 238434U/C
Station Square Tower 348U/C
Station Square Tower 452334Proposed
Station Square Tower 541424Proposed
Metrotown SearsConcord Pacific
Sears Residential Tower 1~1,500Proposed
Sears Residential Tower 2Proposed
Sears Residential Tower 3Proposed
Sears Residential Tower 4Proposed
Sears Residential Tower 5Proposed
Sears Commercial Tower 1Proposed
Sears Commercial Tower 2Proposed
Gold House Tower 140490Pre-sales
Gold House Tower 228Pre-sales
The Met Tower 132295Complete
The Met Tower 238312U/C
ModelloBoffo37170U/C
Aldynne on the ParkPolygon41242U/C
The Park MetrotownIntergulf42298U/C
Bluesky Metrotown (5977 Wilson)BlueSky Properties34365Proposed
6380 SilverBeflord Propertise41479Proposed
6420 SilverBelford Properties26Proposed
6695 Dunblane / 4909 ImperialTransca Development40280Proposed
6750 Dunblane / 5025 ImperialAmacon27177Proposed
Maywood ParkIntracorp30n/aProposed
MidoriPolygon37253Pre-sales
SussexTownline Homes30375Proposed

The above floor & unit counts are best estimates unless otherwise confirmed in City of Burnaby planning/rezoning application documents.

It is anticipated that there will be more rezoning applications forthcoming in the near future, particularly as the Town Centre Plans are further refined; however, it can be argued that the majority of the most central and logical development sites have now been secured by developers. With a very active presales market and continued upward trajectory of condo prices, it can be anticipated that land costs will continue to increase for these Burnaby tower sites in the future, with areas such as Port Moody and Coquitlam seeking to catch some of the spillover of this growth in conjunction with the 2017 completion of the Evergreen Line.

With the height and scale of these projects in Burnaby, it will be interesting to see what, if any response the City of Vancouver has while it struggles to create even modest height and density in increasingly expensive and largely unaffordable areas.

For the record, I am not espousing the virtues of density as the primary means of increasing affordability. In fact, if Burnaby is behind in an area, it is in the creation of new rental units for which there is currently no coherent or substantive policy. This, in part, has helped the viability of several projects since rental replacement is not a requirement like it is in other municipalities. The City of Vancouver has been more proactive in the provision of affordable housing which has hopefully had at least a moderate impact in terms of affordability.

5 thoughts on “How Burnaby is Building More Highrises than Vancouver (…Way More)

  1. This is a great write-up. It’s particularly timely given Rich Coleman’s lambasting of Vancouver vis-a-vis Burnaby’s density.

    Could you add FSR to the table for the Burnaby highrises? It’d be interesting to see how it compares to, say, Arbutus Walk or SEFC in Vancouver. I’m all for density as a development tool. But Burnaby sure feels desolate when you walk between these new tower projects.

  2. Thanks for the comment Chris. I don’t have density/FSR figures for all of these projects, although within Burnaby’s area plans they are fairly consistent across the board in that most higher tower projects are approx. 5 FSR. This would be comparable to SEFC although much lower than the recent tower projects in Downtown Vancouver (often 10-20 FSR range). So on a site-by-site basis, Vancouver may have higher density downtown, but overall, the scale of new development in Burnaby is quite massive.

  3. David – can you summarize the available (approved), proposed and underway total unit numbers? How many years supply is there? If there is a continuing supply and developers get stretched then it will lead to discounting of prices or at the worst a cap.

  4. I don’t have a breakout of what is underway versus what is proposed, but it is worth pointing out that “proposed” and “approved” are basically synonymous/interchangeable in this context since these have mostly been identified through rezoning application documents. In other words, most if not all of these projects will be moving ahead, notwithstanding that some are multi-year/phased projects.

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