Opinion: How dense is too dense?

It’s just a starting point.

The Century Group unveiled a master plan earlier this month for the redevelopment of the Tsawwassen Town Centre Mall, a vision that features some inviting components, but also contains aspects that will undoubtedly create consternation in the community. The concept of an urban village, complete with a high street, public plaza and new library, is likely to be embraced by pretty much everyone, but it’s the number of condos and/or the height of those buildings that are sure to be sticking points.

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There are several factors working in the project’s favour, including even though it has served the community well over the years, the Town Centre Mall is desperately in need of a refresh. Throw in the fact the Official Community Plan calls for density in the town core, a notion reinforced by Delta’s own mega mall-induced sustainability strategy, and there’s no arguing that a mix of residential and retail is the way to go.

The question then becomes how dense is too dense, which gets back to the idea that the master plan, and the 700 condos included in it, is only a starting point. Century initiated its community consultations for the Southlands with a plan that featured 1,900 housing units, a number that was chopped in half by the time the application was finally approved. I would assume the starting point idea also applies to the proposed building heights, an issue which has long been a line in the sand in South Delta, a delineation for many that separates small town from overgrown suburb.

Three towers of 12 floors or more is a marked departure from the norm so despite the expected rationalizations that the more density goes up, the less it has to go out, that aspect of the plan is almost certainly to become a lightning rod for loquacious Tsawwassenites. Now that he’s extricated himself from the bus the mayor threw him under last week, it will be up to Century president Sean Hodgins to work with the public to massage the plan so it satisfies the majority.

That promises to be a noisy process, but when you combine Hodgins’ fair-minded approach with a desire in all corners to see the tired-looking mall brought into the 21st century, it’s far from an impossible task.

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