UniverCity, the community adjacent to Simon Fraser University’s Burnaby campus, is over halfway to being completed, according to the SFU Community Trust which oversees its development.

The community, boasting over 5,000 residents this year, has seen new businesses open up in recent weeks. It is forecast that the area will reach a population of up to 10,000 by 2021, based on the official community plan.

“As soon as you start having a significant number of full-time residents in the community, you have the numbers to generate business and business opportunities,” said Dale Mikkelsen, vice-president of development with the SFU Community Trust.

“You’re seeing more food services, which are very popular for students and for the community,” he continued. “What you will also hopefully see [in the future] is increasing community-based services.”

A $3.9 million expansion is planned for the University Highlands Elementary school, with construction on an additional eight classrooms scheduled for the coming months.

According to Mikkelsen, the trust is also in negotiations to open a medical centre on the mountain. They are exploring ways to increase the capacity of the community and the medical clinic would provide an opportunity for seniors’ housing, he said.

“At this point we’ve constructed all of the infrastructure [. . .] so we are at a point now where we’re really focused on delivering the remaining homes as well as the remaining elements of building a community and we expect all of it to be done by about 2021,” Mikkelsen explained.

The latest community survey showed that nearly half of the 5,000 residents have a direct connection to SFU either as faculty, staff, or students and families make up over one-third of the population. The trust has tried to accommodate the demographic and is considering establishing an additional daycare facility, said Mikkelsen.

“More services means more reasons to stay in the community,” he said.

The trust is also seeking to establish an affordable rental housing program in a year or two. The idea is geared towards graduate students at the university with children. “Our hope is that in the near future [we can] support people who are seeking affordable, larger rental units,” Mikkelsen noted.   

“Relatively speaking [. . .] we remain a reasonably affordable community in the Lower Mainland, that’s a big draw.”

According to Mikkelsen, the residents are looking forward to the potential for a gondola linking the Production Way-University skytrain station with the campus, a project now in the hands of Translink.

The trust is also seeking to increase the research connections between SFU and developments in the community in order to better integrate the neighbouring areas.  

“Over the next five years we do really hope to continue and increase our engagement with the student body,” Mikkelsen said. “And really start making stronger connections with Simon Fraser University so this isn’t a community that is just beside it.”

However, UniverCity still has many years of growth ahead.

“The ultimate vision for us is when the community is built out, we, as the master developer on behalf of Simon Fraser University, can walk away from the project and know [. . .] that this [became] a very satisfied community,” said Mikkelsen. “That they’re left with all the services that they need.”