Last Thursday, September 24, the U-District planning committee held another meeting about the plans to redevelop the area surrounding UFV into a livable community for students.
The concept of a small, city-like area around a university isn’t new; SFU and UBC have mixed-use residential and commercial buildings, bike lanes, small grocery and convenience stores, and access to public transit.
However, these developments have been established for many years, and many have been developed on virgin land. UBC’s University Endowment Lands have been developing since the 1907 University Endowment Land Act, created to raise capital for the university’s growth and operation. SFU’s UniverCity, in partnership with the City of Burnaby, has been growing in the 320 hectares of forest area on Burnaby Mountain since 1996.
UFV, however, is working to expand the U-District on already-developed commercial land that is home to local businesses. The U-District plan aligns intentionally with the Abbotsford Official Community Plan, a yet-to-be-released plan that will encourage new developments to be conducive to livable and pedestrian-friendly areas.
Because the U-District is working with pre-existing businesses on King Road, there could be potential negotiations between those businesses and the City of Abbotsford to relocate. Automotive repair services, outdoor sports equipment stores, an RV dealership, and a storage unit complex operate on King Road off the McCallum exit of Hwy. 1, some having owned their business for over 20 years.
Rod Thiessen and his brother Mark took over their father’s RV business in 2002, previously owning locations in the Clearbrook and South Fraser Way area before settling on the corner of King Road at Hwy. 1.
“We’re better on the outskirts for people to access us with large trailers,” he said. “We’re [at] a good location now because we’re off [Hwy. 1], so anybody in BC who finds us on the internet goes, ‘Oh, they’re just there off the Number 1,’” Rod Thiesen says.
He then went on to say that he has had one offer from the City of Abbotsford, but has since rejected it. Thiessen says even though the offer was generous, there’s no other viable option for the businesses to relocate to.
“Abbotsford is known as a very tough place to find large parcels of property,” he says, “There’s a misunderstanding in municipalities about what our business needs. Even though we don’t need high exposure, we can’t be in an industrial area. They say, ‘Oh, why don’t you go over to that area where they’re cutting up logs,’ but that’s not where we could survive.”
Thiessen went on to say that because recreational vehicles are larger than cars, they need a large amount of space — but since they are commodities, an RV dealership needs similar exposure as other commercial retailers.
“The amount of space you need is industrial, but it has to have a commercial atmosphere,” he says.
According to the U-District Neighbourhood Plan key findings survey, data collected from UFV students and members of the city have placed the most value on gathering places, arts and entertainment, and complete streets. As the existing buildings on King Road are in an industrial complex providing industrial-like goods and services, they don’t exactly line up with these survey results.
Director of facilities and campus planning Craig Toews, who is working with the U-District project, was not available for comment by press time.
However, nothing is set in stone for the U-District project yet — the planning is only in its first phase. Large land rezoning would have to pass through Abbotsford City Council, should the businesses on King Road decide to move and sell their prime spots off Hwy. 1 to the U-District project.