Posted on April 30, 2015

State of the City: The future is now

More than 25 years since Burnaby city hall started creating the city's town centre system it's now working just as planners hoped, said Mayor Derek Corrigan.

"These centres, along with our long-established single-family neighbourhoods, our urban villages, and the parks and open spaces that serve everyone, are now interacting just as we hoped they would when we started planning them more than 25 years ago, to form a thriving, diverse, integrated city," said Corrigan in his State of the City speech to the Burnaby Board of Trade on Tuesday.

Development continues to thrive, with building permits representing a construction value of $699 million issued in 2014, the second-highest value ever. So far this year, $300 million in building permits have been issued, putting Burnaby on track for another record year.

At the Station Square redevelopment alone, 650 people are working in construction jobs as they build two highrises at once. Eventually, the project will include 1,800 homes in five towers.

Meanwhile, to ensure growing neighbourhoods continue to be livable, city hall expects developers to contribute towards amenities in exchange for being allowed to build extra density.

That's how city hall now owns five office spaces which it rents out to local non-profits, including the new community resource centres that serve as homes for Burnaby Neighbourhood House, Burnaby Hospice Society and Burnaby Family Life.

Also on the wish list to be funded through developers' contributions are a new Brentwood Community Centre, a new greenway that will run along Willingdon Avenue between Brentwood and Confederation Park and a new ice rink in the southeast quadrant of the city.

"This much needed new rink will also allow us to rebuild the Burnaby Lake rink along with a replacement for C.G. Brown pool," Corrigan said. "Our planners tell us that this combination of facilities will give optimal opportunities for reduced energy use and savings in operating expenses … another sustainable recreation development for families to enjoy."

Council has also already committed to replacing both Cameron Recreation Centre, including a pool, and Cameron Library, he said.

And the community benefit fund will also cover the capital costs of 12 childcare facilities to be built on school sites in Burnaby, potentially creating 500 to 600 childcare spaces. The school district will provide the land and manage the operations.

Of developers' community amenity contributions, 20 per cent is set aside in a fund to assist with affordable housing projects. Last year, council approved the largest-ever grant from that fund, more than $1 million to support the development of 122 units of seniors housing by the George Derby Care Society.

Corrigan complimented city staff on their "commitment to social sustainability beyond their work roles," noting they recently won a Community Spirit Award from the United Way of the Lower Mainland. And Burnaby firefighters support more than 80 charities through their charitable society and volunteered more than 10,000 hours last year in the community at events, teaching CPR to high school students and running a nutritional snack program at 15 elementary schools.

Thanks to efforts focusing on prolific offenders, crime hot spots and identifying the underlying causes of crime, Burnaby RCMP saw drops in the number of break and enters, arsons, robberies and mischief incidents in 2014.

For 2015-2016 the RCMP and community stakeholders have identified five key policing priorities: property crime, youth, road safety, violent crimes and drugs.

"Mental health, one of the previous year’s policing priorities remains important but has been removed from the top five this year because our goal of reducing calls for service by 10 per cent was surpassed by a 76 per cent reduction," Corrigan said.

With the help of an officer designated for such cases, Burnaby RCMP worked with mental health agencies and professionals to identify and get help to those people that were otherwise causing many of those calls.

Through it all, City of Burnaby continues to be fiscally strong, with its investments earning a 4.49 per cent annual return in 2014, and income of $42.6 million, the most ever for one year. In 2015, the city is projecting a return of 4.2 per cent and investment income of $39.9 million.

Of that investment income, $7 million goes into the city's operating budget to help reduce city taxes, and the rest helps fund capital investment in infrastructure.

"And not only do we do well financially, but we also report well," Corrigan said. "Our finance department won the Government Finance Officers Association Canadian Award for Financial Reporting for its annual financial report."

wchow@burnabynewsleader.com