British Columbia

With SkyTrain on track, Mount Pleasant businesses worry about train lines and bottom lines

A business owner in Mount Pleasant — which could become denser, busier and more gentrified with the addition of SkyTrain service — says she and other entrepreneurs are worried transit improvements could price them out of the neighbourhood.

Mount Pleasant is getting better transit. But will 'character' be a casualty?

A SkyTrain station is set to be built at the intersection of Main Street and Broadway in Vancouver's Mount Pleasant neighbourhood but some businesses and residents have concerns. (Martin Diotte/CBC)

The SkyTrain doesn't run through the heart of Vancouver's Mount Pleasant neighbourhood yet, but Sarah Savoy is already seeing changes.

She blames the planned extension of the Millennium Line along Broadway, in part, for increasing speculation in the neighbourhood, which has led to the rent for her clothing store doubling.

"I'm already feeling it," said Savoy, owner of Much & Little. "I'm just worried if it's at a tipping point where small businesses like mine are going to be out of the picture."

The planned Millennium Line extension plan calls for a station to be built at Main Street and Broadway, in a neighbourhood typified by small shops and hip restaurants (along with the oft-maligned Kingsgate Mall). Savoy's shop is less than a block away from that intersection.

She says she is not the only small-business owner in the area concerned that the arrival of rapid transit could price many entrepreneurs out of Mount Pleasant, increase density too much and ruin the neighbourhood's "village-like feel."

A map of the planned Millennium Line extension to Arbutus Street. (TransLink)

City has options

Alyssa Myshok has lived in Mount Pleasant for 11 years and co-founded the Mount Pleasant Heritage Group. She too has concerns about the SkyTrain line changing the community's character.

"We really want to see the vibrancy and street life and all those wonderful little small businesses continue to exist," Myshok said. "It's going to take some real out-of-the-box thinking … and, quite honestly, guts at city hall to find ways that things can be maintained."

The city could look at how the neighbourhood is zoned, she said, to find ways to add "gentle density," she suggested. She said other cities have preserved distinct neighbourhoods by limiting upzoning, limiting rent increases or exploring other supports for small businesses.

Both Myshok and Savoy say they're not opposed to more transit or density — but not at the expense of what they call the neighbourhood's character.

"If you destroy that, you destroy what Mount Pleasant really is," Myshok said.

The Millenium Line extension will run under Broadway in Vancouver and is currently planned to terminate at Arbutus Street. (Atomic Taco, via Wikimedia Common)

City plans consultation

A spokesperson with the City of Vancouver says it is taking action to prevent excessive speculation in the neighbourhood in advance of the SkyTrain extension.

Those actions include compelling developers to pay extra money when increasing density and not considering most rezoning applications along Broadway for the next two years while a more complete plan for the corridor is developed.

Public engagement on a comprehensive Broadway plan will begin in February 2019, the spokesperson wrote.

Mount Pleasant is best known for quirky boutiques and hip restaurants — and Kingsgate Mall. (Martin Diotte/CBC)

Bike lanes and bridal shops

But is it realistic to expect a community to see such a big improvement in transit without changing its character in some way?

City planning consultant Brent Toderian says no.

"If your definition of character is 'nothing in the neighbourhood changes,' that's not the kind of direction a planning exercise can take," said Toderian, a former Vancouver city planner.

The addition of the SkyTrain, he argues, will improve the quality of life for people as a whole in the neighbourhood. But he concedes it will likely result in some businesses not being able to survive gentrification.

He said a similar situation plays out with bike lanes. While most businesses benefit from increased traffic from bike lanes, wedding dress shops, notably, do not.

Improving transit on the congested Broadway corridor has been a priority for several governments and agencies for years. (Martin Diotte/CBC)

"[Transit] is not going to help every retailer and often retail change occurs as a result of this kind of change," Toderian said. "But overall, the net benefit is obviously positive from this type of transit."

He believes if consultation is done right, the city can mitigate, to some extent, negative implications for existing businesses.

About the Author

Liam Britten

Digital journalist

Liam Britten is a journalist for CBC Vancouver. You can contact him at liam.britten@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter: @liam_britten.

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