Where can you find a neighbourhood that has a perfect blend of chain businesses and ‘Mom and Pop’ shops? As CKNW’s Matt Lee reports, you don’t have to look too far.
Burnaby Heights can best be described as one of the few hidden gems remaining in the Lower Mainland.
And few would argue against it; after all, the community offers just about anything and everything most families would need.
Famous for its local eateries
The area is walking distance from major grocery stores, schools, parks, a local library, recreation centre, and is a stone’s throw from Italian delis, bakeries, and coffee shops.
Local hotspots like Anton’s Pasta Bar, Cioffi’s Meat Market, Valley Bakery, and the Chez Meme Baguette Bistro have all maintained their status as local landmarks, and they are just a handful of the many businesses that carry a witty, small-town charm.
Isabel Kolic is the executive director of the Heights Merchants’ Association and can’t help but agree.
Burnaby Heights lies below the Burrard Inlet on Hastings Street, between Boundary Road and Willingdon Avenue.
It’s a modest community where it feels like, if you’re a local, chances are high you’ll bump into someone you know on the street.
“Everyone knows each other here. You can’t take a walk to mail a letter, or go to the bank, or walk your dog, or even in the side streets, people always say hello to you. Even if they’re a stranger. They always give you a smile and a nod or a good morning or something like that.”
More than just an Italian inspired district
A walk through Burnaby Heights reveals a largely Italian feel to the area, but Kolic says it’s a lot more than that.
“It’s really ethnically broad. Certainly there’s a core of Italians here that offer up and lend its character to the area, but there’s also so many other ethnicities here. We’ve got fantastic Vietnamese restaurants, and a great Indian restaurant, we’ve got eateries from just about every continent. The business owners themselves and proprietors come from almost every country too. So it is kind of like a little United Nations here.”
She says some of the establishments are so cherished that people will drive hours just to stock up on the eats.
“I’ve bumped into people in the lineup at Cioffi’s Meat Market who are there from Chilliwack to do their three times a year sausage run and stock up their freezers.”
Development on the rise to house incoming young families
But what has been a long-kept secret in the Lower Mainland doesn’t appear to be much of one anymore; in the North Burnaby area, city data shows that Burnaby Heights is a place most families are opting to raise children, and like most places, is becoming a hub for development.
The neighbourhood population increased by 14 per cent from 1986 to 2006, and roughly 55 per cent of that total is comprised of families with three or more members.
Single and two-family homes were among the most popular dwellings, with more than 56 per cent of homes occupied by the owners.
Developments for condos are popping up along Hastings Street and the incentive is there for young families or young professionals looking to get into the housing market; after all, the downtown core is just one bus ride along Hastings away.
With more homes come high prices
Where does Burnaby Heights fit in the red-hot real estate market? The most recent numbers from the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver (REBGV) suggest that like the rest of the Lower Mainland, this neighbourhood isn’t immune to sky-high prices.
In fact, the benchmark price for a single family detached home in the North Burnaby area ballooned to just over $1.5 million in May, making it the sixth most expensive region covered by the REBGV.
That figure was below only areas like North Vancouver, West Vancouver, and the West End.
There’s slight relief if you’re a prospective home buyer looking for a townhouse or apartment, as prices for both hovered around the norm in the Lower Mainland.
Bad traffic a sore spot for local drivers
“When you’ve got a main street that’s congested, it usually means it’s a successful street.”
In 2009, Burnaby City Council green-lit a motion to review the traffic concerns raised by residents, and road improvements have been made over the years.
But even the creation of an HOV lane for multi-person vehicles and buses has only had a minimal impact on alleviating the problem.
In fact, Kolic says the HOV lane may be hurting businesses more than helping them.
“If you’ve ever tried to walk on Hasting Street and tried to have a conversation during rush hour, you’d find yourself yelling. And if you were a merchant trying to keep your door open on a hot summer day during rush hour, you wouldn’t hear your customer talking to you, so it doesn’t feel safe and it changes the tone of the street. It doesn’t feel like that neighbourhood street we want during rush hour for sure.”
But traffic headaches aside, Kolic insists that Burnaby Heights is a place to be; it’s a place to set up shop for both families and businesses, where everyone seems to know everyone.
“It feels like a close knit neighbourhood… And I’m not exaggerating; people really do know each other here, it feels like a little village.