Skyrocketing real estate has malls putting homes, not cars, in parking lots

Skyrocketing real estate has malls putting homes, not cars, in parking lots

First it was Woodward's. Then it was Zellers.

Now, the next thing Lower Mainland malls could lose are their vast parking lots.

Mall owners are realizing they can make far more money housing people rather than cars and some are pursuing high-density residential developments.

One such development will be the subject of a public hearing in Burnaby on Monday.

Shape Properties is planning a 37-storey residential tower on the parking lot of Lougheed Town Centre Mall, one of four planned for the mall site.

The proposed development aligns with others at other mall sites in the city — like Brentwood Town Centre and Metrotown — and even elsewhere in Metro Vancouver.

No one from the City of Burnaby was made available to comment for this story.

Projects coming to Coquitlam Centre mall

In Coquitlam, a number of high-rise buildings have risen near Coquitlam Centre Mall and mall owner Morguard Investments has plans to build four towers on the mall site itself, ranging from 28 to 38 storeys tall.

Manager of community planning Andrew Merrill says these developments fit with the city's plans to concentrate population growth.

"We now have three SkyTrain stations in our city centre. We certainly want to capitalize on that investment," he said. "It also helps transition our city centre from very car-oriented, suburban downtown, to a much more pedestrian-focused, people-focused."

And while the mall and its new towers will be responsible for meeting their parking needs, the city won't require them to replace the parking lost to new developments.

Guildford in Surrey could be next

North Surrey manager of area planning Ron Gill says that city has just begun work on a community plan for the Guildford area, and the site of the large mall there could be opened up for residential development.

"That plan does anticipate higher-density, mixed-use developments in support of transit infrastructure that is existing and is planned for that neighbourhood," he said, referring to coming light rail service.

"The community is changing and transit infrastructure is improving ... The hope is that reliance on the automobile will be reduced with those transit improvements."

Gill says parking requirements in the rapidly-built up City Centre area in Whalley have been reduced by 20 per cent and Guildford could also see its requirements reduced.

For mall owners, a 'no-brainer'

Former Vancouver chief planner Brent Toderian says for mall owners, turning parking into housing is a "no-brainer."

It can easily eclipse the profitability of leasing retail space, and they can have both as the Brentwood redevelopment shows: the first phase has only involved the parking lot while it's business as usually for retail tenants.

And if the loss of parking is a concern, underground or parkade parking can be built.

"Metro Vancouver is an international hotbed for this kind of transformation," he said. "Urbanists all over the world are studying what's happening in Vancouver because you almost can't swing a stick without hitting a transforming shopping mall."

He says cities should welcome development on mall parking lots, which he consider to be a tremendous waste of space.

But simply adding towers to a mall, isn't enough. Cities need to plan for amenities, services and public spaces for instance.

"The best practise is to create real urban spaces," he said. "The goal is to be more than a higher density suburb, but rather, a real urban place.

"You're walkable, you're bikeable, you're public transit friendly, you're mixed, and you're connected with a really high quality public realm. … It feels like our best downtowns and main streets and it's usually more than the sum of its parts when it comes to land use."