Brentwood Town Centre

Clicking any image in the slideshow above will open an enlargement in a new tab or window. Years 1956, 1976, 1989, and 1999 are sourced from the City of Burnaby Archives’ collection of orthophotographs, and stitched to create panoramas. The present day image links to a custom Google Map I created using municipal Town Centre boundaries. From this map, you can zoom in for detail, or out to compare Burnaby Town Centres amongst each other, and to others in the region.

It all began with a mall…

The earliest record of the area containing the current Brentwood Town Centre (beyond a pioneer history) began with the rezoning of a 30 hectare property in 1959 to build a shopping centre. Less than two weeks later, on February 23, 1959, the rezoning of the proposed $10,000,000 Webb & Knapp development was granted approval. On May 12, 1960 the Brentwood shopping center was dedicated. Scheduled for completion in 1961, it was expected to be the largest proposed shopping centre in the province, with flagship tenants T. Eaton Co., Loblaw Groceterias Ltd., Bank of Montreal, and 46 other tenants. The Loblaw supermarket was expected to be the first in British Columbia and the largest in the chain. As the following ad in 1961 shows, the shopping centre was met with high expectations.

Although the vast suburban development to the north of this area had been in place since the late 1950s, development along Lougheed Highway was not evident until 1965. At that time, the municipality’s new planner oversaw the rezoning of what was “likely to be the largest single residential unit in Western Canada.” It was located to the east of the mall and bounded by Beta Avenue, Springer Avenue, and Lougheed Highway. Today, we find that the majority of this development was constructed between Delta Avenue, Lougheed Highway, Springer Avenue, and Halifax Street.

It was also during the mid 1960s when the Apartment Studies program was underway for the whole of the City. But because of intense interest from the private market, by 1968, the Burnaby Planning Department felt pressured to produce a more specific outline of the Brentwood Town Centre quicker than they would have preferred. Several months later, the Vancouver firm of Ehling & Brockington presented a concept plan for the Brentwood Town Centre to Council.

Given a copy of the concept, the new owners of Brentwood Shopping Centre, Triton-Trizec, gave glowing approval to the plan.

We have examined the report on the above which you were kind enough to send us and must congratulate the Corporation [Burnaby] on its farsightedness. The leadership involved in commissioning such a study is not often encountered (Holmes, 1968)

Through the letter, the developer raised the possibility that the Planning Department would finally permit a long-awaited expansion of the Shopping Centre. The developer also offered to construct office space in line with the plan if the retail expansion was granted permission to proceed. Despite the plan however, there turned out to be little traction from the development community within the Brentwood Town Centre area. The area continued to attract low land value uses like car lots, while other commercial developments that were proposed fell short of the Planning Department’s desires. And though there was interest to develop high density residential, the demand was still somewhat infrequent, at least for the time being.

Transit sparks a renaissance

In early 1991 during the dying days of the provincial Social Credit government, an official from the crown rapid transit planning agency resigned after it was revealed that the government had preempted a working group on selecting a long-anticipated transit extension to the Northeast Sector communities. That alignment proposal, as pictured below, took advantage of the least expensive route, following along a BC Hydro right-of-way through Burnaby’s Cariboo neighborhood, through to Lougheed Town Centre.

The province’s unilateral decision on the alignment, however, was never carried through. It would take a new provincial government to attempt a Northeast Sector connection.

In 1992 with a new provincial government in power, transit discussions had resurfaced. As we found in the previous section, the provincial government had recently introduced legislation encouraging greater integration between regional strategic planning and transportation investment. Through a revamped BC Transit, the provincial government began soliciting input on a desired alignment between the existing SkyTrain line and the Northeast Sector through Lougheed.

One of the earliest proponents to speak on the subject was Trilea Centres, owner of Brentwood Mall and Lougheed Mall. Representatives presented a report to Burnaby Council, titled “Let’s Do it Right.” They advocated for reasons why the provincial government should spend $550-900 for a Lougheed Highway alignment as opposed to $300 million for a route similar to the one pictured above. But as the Minutes of Council show, Burnaby Councillors did not need to be convinced about the benefits of a Lougheed Highway alignment.

In 1975, the City of Burnaby Planning Department produced a document titled Public Transit in Burnaby. That document highlighted the potential opportunity of a new provincial government that had signaled interest in transit reinvestment. Sensing a potential increase in provincial transit spending, planners discussed the importance of connecting each of the Town Centres with transit.

The Apartment Study essentially set the scene for higher density residential locations in Burnaby by considering apartment location in relation to available community facilities and transit service (Burnaby, 1975:16).

That 1975 document proposed a loop system that would connect each of the existing Town Centres. Planners had proposed a continuous flow of mini-buses between the Town Centres in the short term, but hoped for some form of Light Rail Transit or similar type of system, with the goal of carrying large numbers of people.

While automobiles offer the most flexible routing system, they also have the lowest hourly passenger carrying capacity, whereas the inflexible routing system of R.T. [rapid transit] offers the highest passenger carrying capacity. (Burnaby, 1975: 33).

In 1992, to further encourage a Lougheed Highway alignment, Burnaby initiated a review of the Brentwood Town Centre plan.

Ald. Doug Drummond said the vast areas of commercial and light industrial land south of Lougheed could be upzoned and redeveloped without major impact on residential neighborhoods.

The Framework Review for Brentwood Town Centre was produced in late 1994. The Framework Plan was produced in Spring of 1995, and a year later, the Draft Brentwood Plan was presented to Council (the most recent compilation of the plan can be retrieved from the City of Burnaby’s website). Through the plans, the municipality conceived that the central area would be a significant high density, mixed-use core, anchored around the existing Brentwood Mall. However, the Mall was not expected to remain the same. As the following series of images from the 1996 plan show, planners envisioned a much different Town Centre than had presently existed. They had attempted to make the case that only a high capacity transit system could accommodate such a dramatic rebirth.

As we’ll find in the next section on Lougheed Town Centre, the development of a transit link between the existing SkyTrain line and Lougheed was not without controversy. As the embattled provincial New Democratic government approached reelection, it was becoming quickly apparent that strategic regional planning was less of an issue than securing relationships with allies and fending off controversy. The Lougheed Highway alignment was ultimately pursued, although by the time the tracks were laid, the relationship between the transit agency and the City had become seriously frayed. And, although the Mall owners had been early staunch supporters of a Lougheed alignment, towards the end, even this changed. Since both malls were owned by the same owner, when Lougheed Mall was told that their vision and the municipality’s vision of a transit stop on the mall’s property would not be constructed, the relationship with the province quickly chilled. As the line took shape, it quickly lost favor with what were intended to be key development partners. Nonetheless, over time, the municipality’s aspirations of stoking Town Centre development and shaping future growth continued on track. And for the most part, this vision persevered despite the Town Centre’s close proximity to single family suburban neighborhoods.

Brentwood Town Centre gets a nudge

Although Brentwood Town Centre continued to bustle through the early 2000s, the municipality’s hopes for a mixed use core were being dashed by the persistent presence of auto dealerships located along this historically auto-dependent thoroughfare. To encourage pedestrian movement and realize the public space vision that planners had proposed in 1996, the City had to act decisively. In 2004, the municipality passed a rezoning that was designed to entice car dealerships away from Lougheed Highway, and into a property located outside of the Town Centre’s southern boundary, as pictured below.

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The report noted:

This proposal is supported by staff given the desirability of freeing up the existing car dealership sites for Town Centre development […]

To ensure that the site would be used only for car dealerships located on Lougheed Highway, the City established covenants ”

[…] to restrict car dealerships to those relocating from existing locations within the Brentwood Town Centre.

In 2008, on one of those since-vacated car dealership lots, Chris Dikeakos Architects Inc, on behalf of their clients, submitted a proposal on a three hectare lot that was previously majority occupied by the Morrey Auto Group (along with various auto-oriented service shops).

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The 2008 rezoning proposed two office buildings, which in a strong market would result in 7 and 15 storeys each, or in a soft market would  be 10- and 29-storeys each. In addition, the architect proposed three high-rise apartment towers ranging from 29 to 35 storeys each.  The towers would be complemented by a retail podium and an interior street bisecting the development.

In total, the residential FAR would be 2.60. At a density bonus of $44 per square foot, the first phase of development would result in $4.2 million in density bonusing contributions, earmarked for future civic/ community purposes, affordable/special needs housing, and other community related amenities.

Full steam ahead

By 2010, one decade after the introduction of SkyTrain, Brentwood Town Centre’s momentum was in full swing. Properties in the east and west of the Town Centre were redeveloped into high rise residential with mixed use podiums. The Brentwood Gate development, to the direct east of the Brentwood shopping centre had already gone through an intensive redevelopment, completing the residential vision for the area set forth in 1965. In the photo below, we can see the Brentwood Gate in the foreground with the 1965 apartment towers with period sloping roofs located in the background.

In 2010, Burnaby Council passed an amendment to the municipality’s zoning bylaws to include an ‘s’ suffix to the RM3, RM4, and RM5 zones. The suffix, designed specifically for enhanced growth within the Town Centres, presented an opportunity for developers to increase building density to a maximum FAR of 5.0 over the previous 2.6. Coupled with the increased density allowances was the promise of increased density bonus provisions to provide amenities that would serve the expected population booms within the Town Centres.

In 2011, Chris Diekeakos Architects reapplied for rezoning to the City with amended densities. The rezoning included four residential towers, an office tower, a retail podium, and a community amenity area.

With a maximum total FAR of 5.0, the density bonusing of the revised rezoning was valued at $75 per square foot, rendering an adjusted density bonus of $31,683,000. But, the Dikeakos proposal was just the tip of the iceberg.

In 2010, Brentwood Mall was purchased by Shape Properties Corp. in a joint investment partnership with the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan. An article featured in Business in Vancouver covering the story, noted that the developers were keen to fulfill the Brentwood Town Centre concept plan that had been laid out years prior to their arrival.

The new development would feature better connections with transit, already present onsite through a bus loop and SkyTrain’s Brentwood Station.

In May of 2011, a rezoning application was introduced to Council, outlining the two properties contained within the shopping centre, representing a total approximate area of 13 hectares.

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In late 2011/ early 2012, Shape Properties began publicizing its plans to recreate the Brentwood shopping centre (for more detailed images and additional information on the evolution of Brentwoood shopping centre, visit ‘Brentwood Station’, a blog created by an area resident who has followed the area since early 2010). The plans mimicked the 1996 plans that were set forth by the municipality in the 1996 Development Plan.



There is little doubt that transportation has heavily influenced the pattern of development in the Brentwood Town Centre area. Prior to the introduction of SkyTrain, the area was a destination for used and new car dealerships, auto repair stations, and other auto-oriented establishments. That said, we cannot dismiss the impact that a long term plan has had in shaping the area. It is likely that without the 1966 plan, the area would have been developed by the use that the private market would have preferred to bare – be it more single family residential, or more low-intensity commercial sites. The municipality would not have been able to secure the area for its intended future re-purposing. It was a plan that was produced in 1966 that has brought about considerable investment security to a suburban market, even despite global economic uncertainty. The municipal commitment to stable, long-range planning has sent very clear signals into the marketplace about what uses are acceptable in these Town Centres. And although these predictable plans may turn away some investors, the long-term benefits cannot be understated.

This key combination of long-term vision and transportation focus was not limited to Brentwood. It was a municipal-wide mantra. In Brentwood, this process took a relatively long time to result in extensive development. In Lougheed, conversely, it occurred quite early on. But, even though the pace has been different, the process has been quite similar.

>> Continue reading onto the next section: Lougheed Town Centre>>

7 thoughts on “Brentwood Town Centre”

  1. I have lived in the neighbourhood for 6 years and I’ve commuted through here for decades and I just had no idea so much had lead to the current explosion of development. I much prefer to see the development around here then to watch the forests of Coquitlam come crashing down. I hope they have a sustainable plan in place. Thanks David for compiling all this information, its was a great read.

    1. Thank you, Diana.

      As always – I consider it a great pleasure to be able to explain some of the world around us. So often we take what happens around us for granted, and assume it all to be out of our control. The reality is though, that humans change it, and we can be as much a part of this change as we want to be. Folks often take for granted what happens in City Hall. The reality is though, that it’s pretty exciting stuff.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. Thank Godness they ended up building a skytrain along Lougheed! If the province didn’t agree with the City of Burnaby’s proposal, Brentwood would’ve already died. But instead, it has now turned into the fastest growing and most exciting quadrant in Burnaby. Cant wait to see it overtakes Metrotown in the next decade or two!

  3. Really interesting read David, I hope you continue updating this as the newer developments around Brentwood mall and Holdom take shape. Was interesting to see what was actually around back in the 1956 photo above

    1. Hi Nigel! Burnaby has since added mapping layers to their BurnabyMap application, enabling folks to peer into time, back to 1930 – which is really quite remarkable. Simply enter the map system and click on the little black box, with the 4 white boxes within it, to activate a different basemap – you should be able to see the modern property line system overlaid atop a year of your choosing: BurnabyMap. Spyglass is also a unique way to do to the same, but can be a little trickier to navigate: Burnaby Historical Aerial Photo Viewer (Spyglass).

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