02/18/2015 06:20 EST | Updated 04/20/2015 05:59 EDT

Abbotsford to see major changes as city plans for growth

Bold changes are likely coming to Abbotsford as the city prepares for 60,000 new residents who are expected to move in over the next 20 to 30 years, says Mayor Henry Braun.  

Abbotsford is currently home to 130,000 people. For years, one of the city's biggest draw was its affordability — families could generally buy a house with a yard without paying the sky-high prices seen in Vancouver.

But in anticipation of an influx of newcomers, Braun says he envisions more high-density development, as well as a better transit system and a vibrant downtown core. 

“We have to densify our city and we have to identify our core,” he said.

“When people ask me where it is, they don’t know and I don’t know because we have no core. We have Historic Downtown Abbotsford and I don’t want to diminish that, but if you ask 10 different people, you get six different answers.”

To determine how the city will grow, Abbotsford is rewriting its Official Community Plan and gathering public input. The city is setting up booths in malls and recreation centres, hosting public walks and reaching out to residents on social media. More than 1,000 people have filled an online survey on the city’s website.

“A lot of people seem to be concerned about three big topics,” said Patrick Oystryk, who was manning one of the city’s information booths at the Matsqui Recreation Centre on Tuesday.

“People in Abbotsford love their parks. They really want to preserve the ones that they have and expand upon those. Another thing people are concerned about is the Agricultural Land Reserve and being able to preserve it. It’s a big part of our community and it always has been. And finally, I think, there is also a push to try and create more walkable neighbourhoods.”

Abbotsford mirroring Surrey

Braun says he has been observing Surrey, which has spent more than a decade building up its city centre. Surrey’s new City Hall building, library and the SFU campus are the centrepiece of a community that was once known for its sprawl. The city also planned for high-rises to be built near a Skytrain line.

“They had zero percent tax increases for seven years, which forced the city to examine how it does business and come up with different ways to provide services,” Braun said.

“We’re kind of doing the same thing here, which will make us more efficient as government. But in that process, they also said, who are we, where are we going and what do we want the city to look like?”​