Tsawwassen is a cluster of neighbourhoods in the affluent municipality of Delta, in Greater Vancouver. It sits on a peninsula in the Pacific Ocean, warm and dry, getting half as much rain as many other parts of the region. As our waitress said, Tsawwassen lives in its “own little bubble,” away from the big-city mainstream.
The local government’s official plan describes Tsawwassen’s character as “semi-rural” (schedule D1-6); in fact, it’s a 1960s-style suburb with mostly quiet streets and average-sized lots. Construction activity is brisk, though, as the original 60s and 70s homes are knocked down and replaced.
Commercial services are gathered in a tightly-defined town centre development that has seen some residential densification over time – some, but not too much. The plan (schedule A1-10) sees modest overall growth in Tsawwassen, from 21,000 in 2001 to a projected 24,000 in 2021.
The town centre was bustling on the Saturday when I visited Tsawwassen with Robert Smarz, my friend from Surrey who is restless with changes in his own neighbourhood. Bob noticed the lack of big box stores and chain stores, and the focus on local business ownership. I noticed the apparent prosperity — there are few commercial vacancies — but also the flawed design. The city’s official plan says the objective is to achieve a “small town” feel, but this doesn’t tell us much. The business zones in British Columbia’s small towns are often grubby and disorganized. A key challenge for Tsawwassen’s central area is the width and traffic speed on the high street; it’s as wide as a regional highway, even though it leads only to two or three neighbourhoods and a small U.S. village at the end of the peninsula. Virtually every commercial property in Tsawwassen is part of a strip mall, or otherwise fronted by a parking lot. Commercial and residential uses are almost entirely segregated. Local government has missed an opportunity; instead of a village that invites walking, we are left with disconnected plazas. As Mr. Smarz said, they could have made it cuter.
We had a comfortable lunch at the Crown and Anchor pub, dropped in on the real estate office, and spoke with a couple of residents in the street. There is concern that the Tsawwassen First Nation may choose to develop a casino on their nearby territory. This, allegedly, is having a dampening effect on local real estate prices. Of more concern to merchants, it appears that Walmart is planning a new outlet on First Nation land, as part of a mall development with 8,000 parking stalls. Delta Mayor Lois Jackson says this will “have an impact” on the community, but counsels residents to “wait and see.”